Three days that changed our lives.
That’s how long my grandfather, Bob Eckert, was stuck on the floor of his home in Cleveland after suffering a major stroke. Finally, a neighbor noticed mail piling up and went to check on him. Thankfully he lived, but suffered from the after-effects of those three days for the rest of his life.
My grandfather’s stroke had a lasting impact on the way my parents cared for him and thought about his independence. In a world where we can know the exact location of a rover on Mars, how is it that we can’t know our loved ones are safe if we are not physically with them? Out of this frustration, Totemic was born.
Nearly everyone at Totemic, and millions of people around the world, have a story similar to my own. A loved one slips and falls doing some mundane day-to-day task. Some of those people can’t get up, some are seriously injured; few have a Life Alert-style pendant to call for help, and even fewer actually wear it. After the first such traumatic event, it’s natural to ask serious questions about your loved one’s future: “Will they be able to live their life as before? How will I know if something happens again? How do we balance their independence with safety?”
Within the first 12 months of moving into a skilled nursing facility, mortality rates increase by 50–60 percent, and are even higher in the first six months.³
Current solutions are as varied as they are ineffective. Some people completely blanket their parents’ home in video surveillance and two way speakers. Many people invest in fall detection wearables or PERS (Personal Emergency Response Systems) that are reactionary at best and ineffective at worst. Out of all PERS devices sold, more than 50 percent aren’t worn enough¹ and 25 percent are never worn at all.² Others have moved older adults into the same room as their teenage grandchildren for supervision, as was the case with my Co-Founder Neal Khosla’s grandfather. When none of the above solutions are viable, families often spend between $50,000 and $100,000 per year on full-time care or retirement centers that strip away older adults’ independence and drastically change the course of their life. Studies have shown that within the first 12 months of moving into a skilled nursing facility, mortality rates increase by 50–60 percent, and are even higher in the first six months.³
Out of all PERS devices sold, more than 50 percent aren’t worn enough¹ and 25 percent are never worn at all.²
Until now, the solutions for balancing care and independence have been intrusive, uncomfortable, reactionary, or prohibitively expensive.
Enter: Totemic. We’re hard at work creating revolutionary products to help keep people safe, independent, and able to remain in their own homes as they age. Our first product is a simple, stand-alone, fall-detection sensor that doesn’t require any wearables. Just place it in the center of the home, and know that your loved ones are safe should they fall or need assistance. It is powered by advanced sensors and cutting-edge artificial intelligence, and backed by compassionate human beings. No cameras, no wearables. (Stay tuned for a follow-up post explaining our technology in more detail)
The No. 1 reason the emergency button on PERS devices is pressed is due to loneliness⁴, so why do existing companies treat this fact as a bug? We’ve found it has been much better to embrace the human element of our work, making sure our service provides not just basic safety monitoring, but also companionship and human connection to care for a person’s holistic well-being. Two-way voice communication was originally built into our device simply as a way to handle emergencies, but we’ve since realized this modality has tremendous potential to enable meaningful human experiences for older adults. Any time they want someone to talk to, we will be there ready to chat. Silicon Valley has left behind a generation of people in its design paradigms of touches, swipes, and views. Our device has the potential to bring the social connection and practical convenience of the internet age to a group of people who sorely need it.
By combining state-of-the-art technology with an empathetic understanding of the challenges people face as they get older, our mission is to empower everyone to live their lives in the way they choose. Fall detection is only the start for us. This device lays the foundation for solving the myriad of issues preventing older adults from maintaining independence, staying healthy, and preserving human connection as they age. We’re continually inspired to pursue our mission by Atul Gawande’s quote:
“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.”
— Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
We’re thrilled to share our ideas and solutions with you. Sign up on our website to get updates on our progress and early access to products. If you’re interested in joining our team on this journey, visit our jobs page.