Technology is constantly advancing, and you never know when a discovery can change the way you and your doctors manage your condition. In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some new medical devices — including wearable seizure alert devices — for detecting certain types of seizures. Other motion-detecting devices used to watch for seizures during sleep are also revolutionizing the way epilepsy is monitored and treated.
If you or a loved one is living with epilepsy, you may want to talk to your care team about investing in one of these devices. Each comes with pros and cons, and they can help you weigh your options and choose the best fit for your needs.
In recent years, companies have developed new ways to monitor epilepsy, giving those with the condition and their caregivers more peace of mind. Wearable seizure-detecting watches, mattress devices, and camera devices are revolutionizing the way seizures can be detected.
Doctors and researchers hope that someday these devices will also help prevent sudden unexpected death from epilepsy (SUDEP). While there are currently no devices proven to prevent SUDEP, some of these devices can detect if someone is repeatedly shaking while they sleep — indicating a seizure — and can notify a family member or caregiver via an alarm, phone call, or text alert.
Learn more about nocturnal seizures.
Importantly, these devices have their limitations. For example, they typically don’t monitor for changes in heart rate, which can also indicate that someone is experiencing a seizure. Likewise, not all of them monitor changes in breathing — such as a brief period when a sleeping person may stop breathing while having a seizure. Additionally, these systems aren’t completely accurate and may send false alarms.
Although there’s no scientific evidence that these types of devices prevent SUDEP, they may still be a useful component in an overall strategy for monitoring signs of SUDEP at night.
Following are some examples of wearable devices — or apps to run on devices — that may prove useful for people living with epilepsy.
In 2019, the FDA approved Empatica’s Embrace2 watch for detecting generalized tonic-clonic seizures in adults and children ages 6 and up. These types of seizures can be difficult to monitor and report if no one is there to observe them, as the person experiencing them can become confused or lose consciousness. One study found that among 91 adults with focal epilepsy, more than 40 percent of their tonic-clonic seizures went unreported. New medical devices like Embrace can make it easier to report seizures.
Neurologists typically monitor seizures with an electroencephalogram (EEG), which uses patches containing electrodes that measure electrical activity in your brain. Electrical activity in the brain shows abnormal spikes when someone is having a seizure. A doctor trained in reading EEGs can determine when someone is having a seizure, even when they’re showing no visible signs of one. Although EEGs are used in a hospital setting, they’re not used for monitoring seizure activity at home.
Instead of monitoring electrical activity in the brain like an EEG, the Embrace2 watch uses electrodermal activity (EDA) to measure changes in a person’s sympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that’s activated during a seizure. The watch can measure motion, skin temperature, balance, stress, and activity levels as well. It can be placed on either your wrist or ankle, depending on your preference.
The Embrace2 connects to the Alert App on your cell phone using Bluetooth. The device can also text and call family members or caregivers if it detects a potential convulsive seizure. Importantly, it does not detect all types of seizures. You must have a written prescription from your doctor to order an Embrace watch.
For medical devices to be approved by the FDA, they must first go through clinical studies to prove if they’re effective. One study of 141 children and adults with epilepsy tested the device while also having EEG monitoring for seizures. In total, there were 54 seizures throughout the study, and the Embrace2 watch detected 53 of them (98.2 percent accuracy).
Epilert is a waterproof bracelet capable of measuring activity associated with seizures. Geared toward children over 6 and adults, the bracelet has biosensors that can detect changes in motion, heart rate, skin temperature, and EDA to detect epileptic seizures.
The Epilert system includes three apps — one for users, one for caregivers, and one for doctors. The Patient App can monitor your seizures and track your medications, diet, and sleep habits. Through the caregiver app, a caregiver can receive a text or a call when the system detects you’ve had a seizure and notify them of your exact location. It can also provide real-time updates on the person’s condition. Doctors can also use a special dashboard in the app called Epidoc to visualize your health data, such as the frequency and duration of their seizures and other data to help with diagnosis and treatment.
The Epilert is currently available to preorder on their website, and it hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA.
A company called SeizAlarm has developed an app, also called SeizAlarm, for the iPhone and Apple Watch that can detect signs of seizure, such as seizure-related movements or sudden changes in heart rate. If it detects a seizure, it will send a notification alert to your emergency contacts, including your location. The app can also log seizure data and provide a graph so you can see how many seizures you’ve had over time.
The app leverages the Apple Watch’s accelerometers, which detect motion.You can also use the app with just an iPhone, which needs to be attached to your body, such as with an exercise armband. The company cautions that using the iPhone alone is less accurate than the iPhone-Apple Watch pairing.
SeizAlarm is available for a free trial, after which you must pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee for alert services.
Bay Alarm Medical’s SOS Smartwatch is a medical-alert device that doesn’t require a smartphone to run an app. Unlike other wearable seizure-detection devices, the SOS Smartwatch doesn’t come with motion or fall detection. Rather, if you think you’re going to have a seizure (or any other type of medical emergency), you press the SOS button on the side of the watch and it calls a Bay Alarm Medical operator for emergency support.
The device comes equipped with a built-in speaker and microphone, which lets you speak with a dispatcher. The GPS technology lets the dispatcher know your location. They can also alert your designated friends, family members, or caregivers — as well as emergency services, if necessary.
The watch also comes with a step tracker and has up to 18 hours of battery life.
In addition to purchasing the device, you’ll also need to pay a monthly, quarterly, or annual charge for monitoring and medical alert services. The company offers a 30-day trial period.
Because the device doesn’t monitor falls or seizure activity, it may be best for those who know the signs of an oncoming seizure so they can easily call for help in time.
Other types of devices are available for tracking seizure activity. Parents often use mattress devices to monitor seizure activity in their children, but some can be used for monitoring babies and adults.
One mattress device is called the Irregular Sleeping Movement Detection Alarm System for USA BMA-01, available from United Kingdom-based Medpage. The device analyzes signals from a sensor that you position under a mattress. The sensor checks for certain types of potential seizure-related body movements, like a cluster or muscle spasms, and triggers an alarm through a radio pager when it detects such motion.
The system also includes a microphone capable of detecting sounds such as lip smacking, groaning, or vocalizations that may be associated with seizure activity. These, too, can trigger an alarm.
Video footage can be invaluable in detecting seizures when a person is sleeping. Camera devices that use infrared technology are used to record both video and audio to detect activity that may look like a seizure. The camera can then trigger an alarm to alert family members or caregivers.
The SAMi-3 is a camera system that can detect several types of seizures, based on certain motions and sounds. It can be programmed to alert a caregiver and to start recording when it detects someone may be experiencing a seizure, which can help give a caregiver peace of mind at night. The SAMi-3 can also record motions throughout the night and highlight anything of note, which a doctor can use to help make a diagnosis and treatment plan.
If you’re interested in trying a seizure-monitoring device for you or your child, talk to your epilepsy care team. Depending on your needs, your neurologist may recommend one device over another.
There are many considerations to take into account when choosing a device. The Epilepsy Foundation suggests weighing the positives and negatives of each, along with your lifestyle. Questions to answer that can help you narrow down what monitoring device to choose include:
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What medical devices or accessories have you used to monitor epilepsy? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.