We monitor every aspect of our health through apps – exercise, diet, sleep and even ovulation. So why should epilepsy be any different? The new Embrace Watch from Cambridge-based company Empatica, is hoping to be the solution.
Rosalind Picard, a professor at MIT and co-founder of Empatica, is trying to change the face of epilepsy, the often-stigmatized neurological condition, along with her team. An affective computing company consisting of roughly fifteen members, they’ve developed a new wearable technology that seeks to prevent deaths from seizures with a simple watch. “The idea is that you want to get information to somebody nearby as soon as possible,” Picard says, which is what the watch and its accompanying app will do.
The idea came about when one of Picard’s students asked to borrow two of the affective sensors they were developing at the time in the hopes of discovering stressors for his autistic brother. What appeared to be a malfunction in the sensors led to an unexpected discovery: seizures can occur in localized parts of the brain and only affect half the body. More important was how they measured the data—through a skin conductance monitor and not an EEG, the most common tool for measuring hyperactivity in parts of the brain.
After launching an Indiegogo campaign, which was successfully completed by over 500% of their original goal, Empatica will roll out the sleekly designed wearable. Similar to trendy new FitBits and Apple Watch, Embrace has a simple design with a powerful purpose. Underneath the metal face and leather band, technology monitors skin conductance, which Picard’s team has found to be a better detector of bodily and brain-related stress than EEG readings.
The watch–which should be worn whenever an epileptic individual is unsupervised–detects when a seizure is happening and sends an alert to a designated caretaker—a family member, partner, friend or neighbor—notifying him/her that the wearer is in the throes of a seizure. Similar to other wearable technology, Embrace has an app, which receives data from the watch. It is through the app or a second, paired watch, that the alert is sent.
It also allows the caretaker to call for emergency medical help, if need be, directly from the app. “Each patient and their doctor can work out what’s best for them, based on what usually happens,” Picard says of the alert system.
Ultimately this technology has the potential to prevent harm and even death brought on by seizures. The “leading cause of death in young adults with uncontrolled seizures,” according to the Epilepsy Foundation, is a condition known as Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) in which an individual will have a seizure, and then sometime thereafter, stop breathing. In such cases, epileptic individuals need attention to ensure their safety. Though the cause of SUDEP is currently unknown, “more people die of SUDEP than of house fires each year,” according to Embrace’s Indiegogo site. Clearly it’s a problem, and now there seems to be a feasible solution.
What’s more, the watch gives parents a better way to manage the lives of young epileptic children. Often times, parents worry about leaving a child alone for a few minutes while they perform perfunctory tasks such as laundry or even using the restroom. With Embrace, parents carry on with a little less stress, knowing they will be alerted if a seizure occurs.
While at its core Embrace is quite different from most smart watches, it’s impossible to tell so at a glance. “That’s what we’re after in terms of design, that on the outside everyone just thinks it’s gorgeous, but on the inside, nobody knows you’re running an epilepsy app,” Picard says.
The app will also allow users to monitor their daily stressors and make changes to their lifestyles to increase calmness. Like many of today’s wearables, it also monitors heart rate. Using a diary function, users can go back and see what part of their day caused stress.
“Embrace will actually show the data of what’s going on inside you, that most people aren’t really aware of,” says Picard. “We’re hopeful that will help more people find their triggers.”
The Embrace watch – currently retailing for $199 – comes in two sizes, is surface water resistant and has a rechargeable battery. For more information and to preorder Embrace, visit the Indiegogo website.
As one of MedTech Boston's editorial interns, Lisa covers events, contributes photography and feature stories to the site and manages social media. She recently received her Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University. Lisa also earned her Bachelor of Arts from BU, with a degree in English and Philosophy. She has written for multiple campus publications, in addition to interning at Boston magazine.
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