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05 January 2016

Husband programmes smartwatch to detect wife's seizures


When Ryan Clark's wife Kathryn had a tonic clonic seizure out of the blue, the dedicated husband took a week off work, not just to look after his wife and two young sons, but to programme software for a smartwatch that would alert him to any more seizures.

Now, with the help of Kathryn (above, with sons), the independent game developer has come up with a  system that can detect rhythmic movements in the frequency seen during a tonic clonic seizure.

If the smartwatch detects movements above a certain level, it sends an alarm to the wearer's phone. If the alarm is not cancelled within 15 seconds, the app automatically sends an alert to a named family member or friend in the person's phone contacts. In Kathryn's case, the alert goes through to Ryan and to her father.

The app also has a panic button so that if the wearer senses they are about to have a seizure, they can press it to alert their contacts.

The app is called Pebble Seizure Detect and is available for free on a $100 Pebble smartwatch.

Not yet foolproof

Talking in the New Scientist, Ryan explained that the software is not yet foolproof. 'There are definitely are false positives,' he said. 'Brushing your teeth is almost exactly the same frequency and strength as having a seizure, it will definitely pick that up.'

He warned that the watch could also miss real seizures if, for example, the arm with the watch on it gets trapped under the person’s body. 'It shouldn’t be relied upon, but makes it more likely that a seizure will be detected.'

Peace of mind

Both Kathryn and Ryan say the watch has given them an increased sense of security and peace of mind.

'Most people with epilepsy and other chronic conditions will tell you it’s always a struggle to balance freedom with safety, independence with responsibility,' said Kathryn. 'Once you get over the shock that you have seizures, you do have to get down to, OK, how am I going to live with them? This has been the answer in a lot of ways for us.'

Find out more

Read more in the New Scientist (opens in a new window).