The Evolution of Personal Emergency Response Systems


For many years, the market for personal emergency response systems (PERS) – think back to the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials – has been stuck in rut.  These systems have an emergency call button, usually in the form of a pendent or bracelet, and notify emergency services and caregivers in case of a fall or emergency.  They were functional and reliable, but essentially boring.  Good enough was good enough.

Why is PERS a Good Market?

There are several reasons why the PERS market is ripe for innovation:

  1. There continues to be a need for this type of service. Populations are aging.  Today, approximately 12% of the world’s population is over age 60 and the percentage of people in this age bracket is expected to double by 2020.
  2. People want to age in place and communities are beginning to support this trend.
  3. Revenue for this category is steady and the market has good profit margins.
  4. A wider range of offerings besides the emergency call function allows for new market opportunities.

Over time, PERS providers have offered some additional services and options, for example moving from a landline-only offering to solutions that include cellular connectivity, larger monitoring coverage areas, and GPS.  But recently, design and end user desires have become more important, in some cases playing prominent role in the overall product design, and opening new opportunities for the PERS market.

Expanding the Target Markets

While the primary market for PERS will still be older individuals choosing to live independently, some see opportunity in other segments, such as the disabled and those needing special assistance, children, and even younger consumers that are concerned about their personal safety.

In fact, Israel-based Aerotel Medical Systems sells a wrist device called LifeCare that incorporates GPS and allows for geofencing, The company sees opportunity for the device for “elderly, chronically ill, children, or lone workers.”  In addition, a recent article in the The Guardian on dementia care discusses how one PERS system with GPS (Buddi) is help seniors live more independently.


Another company, Lively, has taken a particularly fresh approach to PERS.  The company found that many seniors recognize the need for a PERS system, but also resist adopting these types of products.  In focus groups the company conducted, one participant said, “I won’t wear a dog collar around my neck” and others stated that wearing a large pendent device seemed to scream “I am old and frail.”  Another interesting finding was that only 13% of PERS users wore their device throughout the day, greatly reducing their effectiveness.

Keeping this in mind, Lively designed its PERS solution to look attractive and go beyond the emergency call basics.  The package includes a hub that uses cellular connectivity, a “safety watch” that also has step counting functionality, and four activity sensors (two for pillboxes, a refrigerator sensor, and another sensor that can be placed, for example, on the door or shower).


(Source: Lively)

These activity sensors allow for an element of prevention, enabling the product to go beyond fall detection and emergency notification.  Caregivers can track activity, and ideally can identify issues before they become problems (missed meals or medication may make the senior weak and contribute to a fall.  Family members can intervene before problems become more serious.)

Lively has stated that it is attracting younger users; the average age of a PERS subscriber is 88 and they use the offering an average of 26 months.  So far, the average Lively customer is in their late 70s and the company estimates they will use their devices for approximately 55 months.  In addition, the company is also selling its solution to senior care facilities (assisted living, senior living communities) as a way to better track and care for their residents.

Continued Evolution

It is clear that PERS offerings will continue to broaden over time, and new features will be introduced.  For example, some vendors are working to integrate information collected by connected medical monitoring devices into their PERS, working in conjunction with connected home services, and including tracking for “wander management.”  In addition, more services will use wide area network (WAN) connectivity, mainly mobile operator networks, to allow for easier setup and a larger coverage area.  Some industry players also believe the offerings will eventually move to multi-functional devices, for example using mobile phones or tablets as the hub.  Jitterbug, which markets mobile phones and services to the older demographic, offers a more modern-looking medical call device, as well as including emergency call buttons on mobile phones.  Clearly, the PERS market is one with a lot of potential for evolution, and presents ample opportunity for continued evolution.

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