After reading last week's article on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and bystander CPR, Scott mentioned the importance of having your heart stop when you are in the company of others. He makes a good point, because 88 percent of SCA occurs in the home. An unprecedented 27 percent of Americans live alone. Many of these are senior citizens. In fact 47 percent of women over age 75 are going solo.
There are documented health dangers that come with living alone. They include an increased risk of heart disease, falls, vision disorders and arthritis.
For many of these, action can be taken to prevent them or to limit their ill effect. Whether making a minimum goal for social outings to ward off depression, or wearing a medical alert button in case of a fall, there are many solutions available.
And if you are at known risk for SCA, there are options such as internal pacemakers and external defibrillator vests that your doctor can prescribe.
The problem with sudden cardiac arrest is that there are often no symptoms leading up to it.
When your heart stops, you may not be able to push your medical alert button or call 911. If SCA happens when you are home alone, the game is over because CPR and defibrillation need to happen within 4-6 minutes to prevent brain death.
Game, set and match for the guy in black carrying a scythe.
Since this is 2015, I thought, “There has to be an app for that.” But as far as I can tell, I’m wrong. The technology is clearly there – with the explosion of wearable fitness devices such as Fitbit and the Apple Watch, it would be simple enough to set an app to alert 911 and nearby contacts if your heart should stop while wearing the device.
The problem is that these devices then crossover into the realm of medical devices rather than health apps. The FDA muddied the waters earlier this year with the rather opaque description of what health trackers can claim to do. The increased pricing that would surely accompany increased regulation stops these companies from crossing that blurry line. And since symptomatic individuals already have the options available to them mentioned above, manufacturers would have to sell a medical device to asymptomatic individuals. That’s a hard sell.
But there is a potential work around with existing technology - an app called IFTTT.
IFTTT stands for If This Then That. With this app you connect other apps to one another. For example, IF your weather app forecasts rain tomorrow, THEN you will receive an email notification. Or IF NPR posts a new technology article THEN it will be saved to your reading list.
Fitbit users can send themselves a rude message if they fail to meet their step goals for the day, or they can add daily activity summaries to a Google spreadsheet.
And now you can see how easy this would be. IF my health app does not detect a heartbeat, THEN call my trusted neighbor, Marilyn.
I tried to create this recipe, as IFTTT calls it, but heart rate isn’t a valid choice for the IF THIS portion. But it wouldn’t take much for the developers at IFTTT to add it.
Could this go wrong? Sure. It could fail, and you could die of SCA without Marilyn ever knowing. But you’d be dead without it anyway, so I don’t see that as a big drawback.
Or you could take your device off to shower or wash the dishes, and poor Marilyn could panic unnecessarily. I can imagine quite a few unnecessary calls to 911 this way, too.
The point is that the technology exists, but using it for this purpose is just beyond our grasp. We can hope that the tech folk will fill this void sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, we should choose our accidents at home wisely. Only fall while you are wearing your panic button around your neck. And wait until you are at a crowded shopping mall to have sudden cardiac arrest.
In the end, we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t control everything. How you will die is just about as elusive as what the stock market will do. So if you live alone, do what you can to mitigate your risk and then enjoy the fact that you can leave the toilet seat exactly as you like it.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.