An interview with Kenneth Shinozuka, creator of SafeWander

By Steve Moran

I can tell you that probably the most exciting accomplishment I had at age 17 was managing to get to all my classes on time in high school . . .  and even that was a challenge at times. Not so for Kenneth Shinozuka, creator of SafeWander, the world’s first wearable sensor that sends an alert to a caregiver’s mobile device when a loved one or a patient gets up from a bed or chair, even if the caregiver is far away.

I arrived to the Aging 2.0 Age Tech Expo a bit late and there was all this buzz about a great presentation by this amazing 17 year old. I was not happy I missed it. I tracked him down to ask him if he would tell me his story. It is pretty cool.

A Grandchild’s Love

My initial curiosity stemmed in discovering what led Kenneth to creating such a product in the first place . . . especially at such a young age.

“Growing up in a family of three generations I was always very close to my grandfather. When I was four years old he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Over the years his condition got worse and worse. The scariest part was that he frequently wandered out of bed at night. I remember one time when I was six years old he was found wandering aimlessly on the highway.” Kenneth explained.

Talk About Scary

“Yeah, very scary.” Kenneth agreed, “We didn’t find out about it until he showed up at our front door with a policeman at his side. It really hit home that this wandering could pose a huge risk to his safety.  

When my parents and I moved to New York City my aunt became my grandfather’s only caregiver. So she had to stay awake all night to keep an eye on him and even then often failed to catch him leaving the bed. Around that time I was 14 years old and just learning about the tremendous amount of stress that she was experiencing as well as the fact that my grandfather’s safety was often in jeopardy.  

I just decided that I had to take the problem into my own hands. So one night I had returned to my grandfather’s home for a Thanksgiving break and as he was stepping out of the bed I sort of saw the solution to the problem. I thought why don’t I put a pressure sensor under the heel of my grandfather’s foot and as soon as he steps out of the bed and onto the floor the pressure sensor would detect an increase in pressure and then send an alert to a caregiver’s smartphone.

That was the initial idea and then after going through several different challenges, like making the sensor, designing a circuit, I was finally able to come up with two prototypes that I tested on my grandfather for 12 months. After testing it on more people I realized that there was a need to create a non-sock solution. So over the past year I’ve been working on a sensor that’s attached to a patient’s clothes.”

Smart Detection

One of the concerns that people have with thois kind of motion sensor is that you have this potential of ending up with a whole bunch of notifications where they’re not really getting out of bed. So particularly if somebody just rolls over or is restless in bed, how does SafeWander avoid that?

“One of the benefits of this device is that it’s accurate in detecting wandering. It only detects changes in body position when a patient starts to rise out of the bed. So if they’re just tossing and turning in bed then an alert won’t be sent out to caregivers. One of the big problem with sensors is alarm fatigue. So caregivers would hear an alarm but think it’s probably a false alarm so they decide not even to look at the person and that can oftentimes result in endangering the person’s safety. So having a device that has very few false alarms hopefully, like SafeWander, is something that could be very beneficial.”

The beneficial implications for this type of product are significant. I am thinking this is only the beginning for young Mr. Shinozuka. With great minds like his at the helm of future progress in our industry, I foresee great things on the horizon. Keep an eye on this one folks . . . he is going places!

To learn more about SafeWander and hear more from Kenneth Shiozuka, be sure to listen to the rest of the podcast below: