The Embrace Watch for Epilepsy

How the new wearable detects seizures

The Embrace watch is an FDA-approved smartwatch that can be worn as a seizure alert system for children and adults. It detects some types of seizures, and sends an alert signal to your designated caregivers, notifying them that you need help.

The Embrace watch uses technology developed by Empatica, an affective computing company that was spun-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The product was developed in partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation and private donors.

Indications

The embrace watch can be used as an adjunct to medical management for people who have convulsive seizures due to epilepsy. These types of seizures are also described as generalized tonic-clonic seizures.

Convulsive seizures are characterized by rapid, rhythmic, involuntary (not on purpose) physical movements, usually lasting for several seconds. Convulsive seizures typically cause a decrease in the level of awareness, with or without complete loss of consciousness. The embrace watch is used to send a message when it recognizes that the person wearing the watch is having a generalized tonic-clonic seizure.

Not Indicated

There are also several different epilepsy types for which the embrace watch is not indicated, such as complex partial seizures and absence seizures. Complex partial seizures are characterized by a decreased level of awareness, with possible movements of the body, usually lasting for a few seconds. Absence seizures are characterized by a decreased level of awareness and staring spells but without involuntary physical movements.

How to Use the Embrace Watch

The Embrace watch is a wearable device that monitors convulsive epileptic seizures. You use the watch by wearing it on your wrist, especially at times when you may be at risk of having a convulsive seizure.

The system is meant to be used with a companion Embrace watch. A companion Embrace watch is worn by your family member, friend, or caregiver. The companion watch can be programmed to vibrate when your watch detects that you are having a seizure, and the vibration alerts your companion that you may need help. The two watches have to be within 30 feet (10 meters) for the companion watch to work.

According to the manufacturer, there are important things to be aware of before you buy an Embrace watch:

  • Using the Embrace watch requires an active subscription to the monitoring and alerting service and a compatible iOS or Android device. 
  • At the current time, users in the United States must enroll in a research trial, which is called the Clinical Trial to Send Seizure Alerts. You can still use the watch if you don’t participate in the trial, and it can be used to track your sleep, rest and activity. But it cannot be used for seizure detection and alerting if you do not participate in the trial.

How the Embrace Watch Works

Embrace is programmed to detect physical movements as well as autonomic responses, which are changes in blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and breathing.

It has built-in sensors that gauge electrodermal activity (EDA). EDA is a measure of physical movements, activity, temperature changes, and sweating. These fluctuations in the skin happen in response to the alterations that occur in the brain when you experience a convulsive seizure.

The skin changes are also especially likely to occur in response to the types of seizures that shut down breathing. These types of seizures can cause sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), one of the most serious consequences of epilepsy.

The built-in detectors include:

  • EDA sensor: Measures sympathetic nervous system activity, which is activated during many circumstances, including convulsive seizures
  • Gyroscope: Measures rotational speed
  • 3-Axis accelerometer: High-sensitivity motion detection
  • Peripheral temperature sensor: Measures skin temperature

Embrace also uses two applications:

  • An event detector: This detects your electrodermal response. A machine-learning algorithm is trained to detect measures of convulsive seizures and is customized based on your history. The event detector sends an alert to your companion when the watch detects changes consistent with your seizures.
  • A diary application: Used to monitor your everyday routines, alerting you if your activity, such as lack of sleep, puts you at risk of having a seizure

How Embrace Connects to Your Companion’s Watch

Embrace sends your data to a smartphone using Bluetooth and then sends the information from your smartphone to Empatica’s servers via an internet connection. When your watch detects a possible convulsive seizure, it is programmed to send alert calls and SMS to the caregivers’ phones if they are within a 30-foot range from you when you are wearing your watch.

Limitations

The Embrace watch might not detect every convulsive seizure, and, subsequently, it might not send alerts. It cannot prevent you from having a seizure, or stop a seizure from happening, or protect you when you have a seizure.

The Embrace watch is only used as a seizure alert that informs those who are wearing a companion watch if they are within 30 feet of you while you are wearing it. It cannot be used in place of safety measures and seizure prevention.

For example, if you use the watch, you should regularly take your anticonvulsant medication as prescribed. You should maintain seizure prevention, such as avoiding sleep deprivation, alcohol, and drugs. If you have a tendency to have seizures, you should heed your doctor’s instructions about driving, operating machinery, and avoid swimming alone or using a ladder. The alert system cannot protect you from these dangers.

Cost and Availability

The Embrace watch is considered a medical device in the United States and Europe. At the current time, the monitoring and alerting system are available in certain countries.

You can buy the watch from the manufacturer, Empatica. The watch costs $249 and the monitoring service requires a monthly subscription, which costs either $9.90 per month, $19.90 per month, or $44.90 per month, depending on several features such as the number of companion watches.

All of the plans include alert service for at least one companion, as well as seizure detection, monitoring of rest and physical activity, manual seizure logging, and the ability to access seizure history. The higher cost plans include rest mode detection, which may detect milder seizures, and alert location, which alerts companions to your location using GPS, as well as the ability to have an additional companion (with the $19.90 plan) or unlimited caregivers (with the $44.90 plan).

The watch comes in several colors, and you can buy additional watchbands and a charging dock.

A Word From Verywell

If you are living with epilepsy, there are several approaches to staying safe. The Embrace watch uses technology, while another approach, such as getting an epilepsy dog, uses the companionship of a trained dog to help alert you and your caregivers when you are having a seizure. You can decide, along with your family, which method or combination of methods are right for you.

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