Thursday, 3 November 2016

Review ~ Empatica Embrace

Two years ago my husband bought me the empatica embrace watch as a Christmas present. It was a sort of crowdfunding scheme so it wasn’t as straight forward as buy the item and receive it in the post a couple of days later.  The plan was for it to be released in October 2015 so there was quite a wait and obviously the risk that it might never happen.  I read a lot about the watch and what they were trying to achieve.  To produce a product which would alert a carer to a seizure wherever the person was and also monitor stress levels (a particular trigger for me and I feel many people with epilepsy but something we can all develop strategies to have some control over), while also be comfortable to wear and look good at an affordable cost all made me feel this was a good thing to take a risk to support.

Two years ago...

Two years ago I was in a very different place with my epilepsy, I had had two tonic clonic seizures in three months, we had decided lamotrigine wasn’t going to be the drug to control my epilepsy and so I was weaning onto keppra.  We were also thinking about a second baby and not long after ordering the embrace we found out I was expecting in October 2015 so we were hopeful the embrace would arrive on time for baby’s arrival and a period where seizures are always more likely and with a vulnerable baby having an alarm always helps everyone’s confidence.

Unfortunately as with all the best made plans there were problems with development of the embrace, however this is a risk you take when you crowdfund something, and empatica did keep us up to date with what was going on throughout so I cannot fault them.  We carried on with our rather frumpy (and extremely expensive) alarm which only worked in the house.  By some miracle we started to realise that the leveteracitam seemed to be working and after 10 years of seizures, it appeared I was seizure free.

Celebrating one year seizure free

So how would any normal person celebrate a year’s seizure freedom but by signing up for the London Marathon!  I was a keen runner through school, it was my way of getting away from everything, however it was while running that my seizures began, in fact three of my first four seizures happened during or shortly after a training session.  So running the marathon seemed like the perfect way to show epilepsy that I had won and if I could raise a load of money for others with epilepsy in the process even better.

So I started running, I have two children so my main training time was after giving Benji his last feed so I would usually leave the house at 8pm, as my distances built I wouldn’t be getting home until 10pm and our strategy for knowing whether or not I had had a seizure… figure out how long the run should take and if I am not back by that time send a search party out… that could mean me lying there for 2 hours!  In the long summer days this worry was quite easy to push to the back of my mind I am not so sure it was so easy for my poor husband sitting at home waiting for me.

Introducing the embrace epilepsy monitor

But then autumn arrived, the cold, dark evenings set in and I started running in the dark… suddenly the worry of having a seizure and not being found for hours became a little more real and running became a little less appealing… but then what arrived… yes my embrace watch.

I cannot explain how excited I was, it turned up in an attractive package, and it looked amazing, not like a medical item but a stylish watch.  My kids loved the flashing lights and I couldn’t wait to set it up.  Now I am not going to lie set up took a while… however I am fairly sure that was my own fault… my phone memory was full, it hadn’t updated for months and hardly unsurprisingly the embrace wouldn’t connect. So I started clearing out my phone, running updates and then once that was done the embrace connected no problem.

All I can say is I love the embrace, it is comfortable, to the point where I don’t notice it when I sleep at night, I have a fit bit too and always found that quite uncomfortable to sleep in.  It looks good, no one has asked me ’what is that thing on my wrist?’ With my old alarm which looked like a lump of plastic anyone who popped round for a cup of tea would ask about it. I presume everyone just thinks it is a watch and the best bit is that it is a watch and I haven’t been able to wear a watch ever because the batteries die so quickly with me.

Seizure alert function

So the alarm function, as I said I haven’t had a convulsive seizure for over two years so I am unlikely to be able to test whether it actually works when you have a seizure.  However I have had a few false alarms. All have been for activities which I would say are similar to having a seizure so I think that shows it works rather than being a downside of the watch, my old alarm went off a lot more than this so I feel it is pretty accurate.

One false alarm was when I was scrubbing my little girls car seat and when it also went off while brushing my teeth I swapped it onto my non-dominant hand and since then there has only been one time it has alarmed and that was pushing my buggy along a very bumpy path… which pretty much makes your arm shake like it would during a seizure.

The one negative with the watch is that it needs to be charged for about an hour or so every day, this can be done from a computer or charger with a USB connection, I have started doing this in the evening at home or while at my desk if I am working so at a time when there are other people around.  There is also the fact that to contact family members there is going to be a monthly cost which as of yet is still to be announced, but I am really hoping it won't be too much.

The major test... running

Next was the real test… running… so on Tuesday I set off on my run, would it alarm? Would it stay connected to my phone? Well the answer is no it didn’t alarm and yes it did stay connected and the peace of mind this brings to me and my family is immense.  Over the next 6 months I am going to be scaling up my running in preparation for my marathon attempt.  I am going to be running in the dark for long periods of time on my own, and finally we have a full proof plan.  If I have a seizure the embrace will let my husband know and he can locate me with a simple find a friend location app.  That peace of mind is priceless and will help to make the next six months of training a lot less risky.

The final test was when I got home I had a shower wearing the embrace… a little scared of mixing water and electrics as I have put my phone in the wash many times. The embrace states it can be worn in the shower, rain and even for swimming (just not in salt water) and you know what it was absolutely fine after a shower.  Which is an amazing step forward as my old alarm was not water resistant so I was vulnerable when in the shower or even washing up as I was worried it would get splashed.

Stress monitoring

Finally the embrace also comes with the ‘Mate’ app, this is the basis of the stress monitoring system.  It is in the very early stages and currently just measures quality and quantity of sleep and basic activity information but even that is quite interesting to look at.  It is quite crude and the one thing I would say is that the step counter isn’t very accurate in day to day activities but seems to become more accurate if you go for a run.  However I can definitely see where the app is headed and I am really excited for future updates.  I hope that one day it will allow me to monitor my stress levels, to develop mindfulness strategies to control them, as I feel controlling these is key for me in remaining seizure free long term.

I can’t thank the empatica team enough for this amazing product, it is helping me to feel more confident when looking after my kids on my own or while out running and training for the marathon. I really do feel this is going to be life changing for so many people living with epilepsy.

To find out more about the embrace watch visit their website here.


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