Apple Watch app lets you call for help during a seizure

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Greg Pabst, who has epilepsy, developed an iOS app for people with seizure disorders to send out emergency alerts. Photo: SeizAlarm
Greg Pabst, who has epilepsy, developed an iOS app for people with seizure disorders to send out emergency alerts. Photo: SeizAlarm

Greg Pabst and his neurologist were trying to get a handle on his adult onset epilepsy when the doctor’s mention of the newly announced Apple Watch gave Pabst an ah-hah moment.

The doctor was discussing tools for Pabst to chart his seizures and send alerts to emergency contacts.

“Then he said, ‘It’s only a matter of time before somebody does that for the Apple Watch,’ ” Pabst, 38, recalled. “Then I thought maybe it should be me.”

Pabst, of Orlando, Fla., and a developer friend quickly went to work creating SeizAlarm, which appeared in the iTunes store for the iPhone last week and is available for the watch, the pre-orders for which begin arriving Friday.

Photo: SeizAlarm
Photo: SeizAlarm

Epilepsy affects more than 3 million Americans, with around 500 new cases diagnosed every day, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. There are apps for charting seizures and even a smartwatch, recently funded on Indiegogo, that detects seizures. The Embrace, designed by a company called in Empatica, makes use of sensors and a gyroscope for detection and an alert feature for emergency contacts.

Pabst wants the SeizAlarm app to ultimately have a detection feature but said Apple is not granting app developers access to the accelerometer in the watch.

Many people with epilepsy or other seizure disorders experience auras in the very beginning of what could turn into a grand mal seizure, which would make a person unresponsive.

SeizAlarm works during these critical moments, giving a user the option have the app alert emergency contacts or press a delay function that starts a short timer. If a user is in the middle of a seizure, an alert will go out immediately after the timer goes off, usually set for between 45 and 60 seconds.

A user’s activity is automatically logged or there is an option to manually chart symptoms and other experiences related to a seizure.

“Hopefully this app will bring that sense of comfort and independence to those coping with the condition,” Pabst said.

A web designer, Pabst was diagnosed nine years ago after experiencing a growing number of auras that were accompanied by a distinct pitch sounds. He said medication has kept auras and grand mal seizures at bay since late last year.

The announcement of an Apple Watch came shortly after a seizure while he was in the middle of diagnostic tests.

“I’m pretty lucky because some people have grand mal seizures every day and can’t drive or do anything on their own,” Pabst said. “My main goal is to contribute something helpful to the epilepsy community.”