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Ultrasound Technology to Help Manage Incontinence (with transcript)


Ty Takayanagi is VP of Marketing at Triple W, an innovator of connected health devices, and the company developed DFree®, the first wearable device for urinary incontinence. He has an extensive background in consumer tech with industry leader, Sony.



Frank Samson:            Well, welcome to Boomers Today. I’m Frank Samson, and of course, each week we bring you important, useful information, and issues facing Baby Boomers, their parents, and other loved ones. We have another great guest today with us. We have with us Ty Takayanagi. How did I do, Ty? How did I do on that?

Ty Takayanagi:           That was perfect, Frank.

Frank:                           That was good. All right, but I’m just going to call you Ty. So, Ty is a vice president of marketing at Triple W, an innovator of connective health devices, and the company developed a very interesting product that we’re going to talk about called DFree. It’s the first wearable device for urinary incontinence. He has an extensive background in consumer tech with industry leader, Sony. Ty, thank you so much for joining us on Boomers Today, I really appreciate it.

Ty:                                   It’s my pleasure to be on this show, Frank.

Frank:                            Yeah, so this is pretty interesting. Certainly, I don’t think it’s necessarily a subject matter people want to talk about over the dinner table, but being in the industry, this is something we’re dealing with all the time. Tell us, what is DFree exactly? And, how did this whole thing start?

Ty:                                   DFree is the name of the product, and it stands for “Diaper Free,” and it is the first wearable device for urinary incontinence that predicts when you need to go to the bathroom. It’s designed primarily for seniors, and people with disabilities who suffer from loss of bladder control, or urinary incontinence.

According to the US National Institute of Health, there are over 500 million people worldwide who suffer from urinary incontinence, and the reason why we don’t hear about it much is people don’t want to talk about it. They think it’s embarrassing to talk to other people, but urinary incontinence is such a prevalent issue in our society, and there aren’t too many solutions out there for it.

Ty:                                  Our company designed and developed, the first wearable device that monitors your bladder 24 hours a day, and when it senses that your bladder is almost full, it sends a notification to your phone, telling you that you need to go to the bathroom.

Frank:                            Is it a device that is attached to you, is placed inside of you? What is it exactly?

Ty:                                  The device is wearable, and it has a sensor with the size of about a quarter, which you attach that sensor to your lower abdomen. You secure it using a medical tape. This little sensor has built-in ultrasound technology, so it uses ultrasound to detect your bladder, and it monitors how much urine you have inside your bladder.

Frank:                            And then what happens? Let’s say the bladder fills up, so I’m the senior, what am I going to experience?

Ty:                                   Once you attach the sensor to your body, it’s completely non-invasive, and it’s very discreet, so no one’s going to know that you’re wearing this sensor because it’s attached directly to your skin, and it’s usually underneath your garment.

Once the sensor is attached to your body, it will monitor your bladder, and as it gets full, it sends the data to your phone using Bluetooth technology, and on the phone you have this app that you can use to see, visually see, how much, or how full your bladder is.

So it’s very visual, it’s very intuitive, and it also has a notification function to tell you when to go to the bathroom.

Frank:                            Does that message go to the caregiver’s phone, or does that message go to the senior’s phone, or could it be either way?

Ty:                                   That’s a great question. Yes, we’ve received an increase in use of our device from caregivers. So just to give you a specific example, this one customer, she was in her 40s, and she was taking care of her mom who was living by herself. The mother was living by herself, and had urinary incontinence, and oftentimes she would wet the bed, so this daughter was very interested in using our device because she wanted to know exactly when to take her to the bathroom.

And that’s what our product does, is you get a notification on your phone, and this notification can come to the person with urinary incontinence, or the care provider, and in this case, this daughter had the app on her phone, and she would get a notification saying, “The bladder is almost full,” so she’ll know exactly when to take her mom to the bathroom, so it worked out really well in this situation.

Frank:                            I’m just thinking out loud here. As you know, I’m in the senior care industry, and we work with many assisted living locations, and care homes, and sometimes you may have a caregiver that’s helping to manage the care of several seniors in that location. Could the warning go to the professional caregiver on more than one person?

Ty:                                  We have two types of products. One is called DFree Personal, and the other one is called DFree Professional. DFree Personal is meant to be used by a single person, so the DFree sensor collects the data, sends the information to a phone where you can see, visually, how full your bladder is.

With the DFree Professional, we designed the application to be used in hospitals, senior care facilities, and nursing homes. The only difference is that you’re able to see multiple patients on a single screen, with the DFree professional app. This solution is intended for professional caregivers that need to track multiple patients at the same time.

Frank:                            That’s great. Now, before we came on the air, you told me how you got into this, and I thought it was quite interesting story. You come from a consumer tech background, with a large company like Sony, and I want to know, how did you get into this? How did you start doing this? If you don’t mind, do you mind sharing with our listeners what brought you to join Triple W?

Ty:                                  Yeah, sure. I was working for Sony for about 20 years. This is a little bit of a personal story of mine, but my son, when he was 10 months old, fell off of a chair, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and he fortunately, he survived, but unfortunately, he suffered consequences of traumatic brain injury, and he lost control of major functions of his body.

That was when he was 10 months old, and when that happened, I considered retiring to take care of my son full time. I was looking for a solution for his incontinence, because my son was not able to tell me when to go to the bathroom. He wasn’t mobile, so he couldn’t go to the bathroom on his own, and depended on diapers.

I did some extensive research, but there’s really nothing out there that could help me. The only solution for incontinence was basically diapers, and pads, and medications, and even surgeries, which I wanted to avoid.

Then I came across this company called Triple W, which was developing a product called DFree, and it was a wearable to track your bladder, and I thought, “This is great,” so I called the CEO directly, and I said, “I have this son that could use your device.” And he said, “Why don’t you try it out? We haven’t tested our product on children, but we’d be glad to lend you our product.”

I ended up becoming a beta tester for this product, and about three months into it, I got really comfortable with the product, and it was certainly helping my son. In the meantime, I got very close with the CEO, and I explained that I used to work for Sony, and I’m semi-retired now. He said, “You know, we’re looking to sell this product in the US. Would you want to be our head of marketing?” So, I said, “I think this product is great. I think it’s going to help a lot of people. I would be glad to join your team.” That was how I started with this company.

Frank:                            That’s a great story. Great. How is your son doing?

Ty:                                   He’s good. Thank you for asking. He’s 12, he’s still not completely potty-trained, but he’s somewhat able to use the bathroom, so he’s making gradual progress.

Frank:                            That’s great. Ty, I’d like to talk to you more not only about the product, but how to best deal with family about and using the term “incontinence,” all right? And, I think most people do know, but maybe you want to give a brief explanation about incontinence, and maybe a brief review of the different types of incontinence.

Ty:                                   Sure. As I mentioned at the beginning, incontinence is a very prevalent issue in this society, but people hesitate to talk about it. I talk to people with incontinence all the time, because that’s part of my job, and one of the things that strike me about incontinence is how it impacts people psychologically, and I’ve seen in many cases where when people have their first accidents, meaning when they wet their pants, they lose confidence in themselves.

I’ve seen cases where people stop socializing with other people, they stop going out, and that’s one of the things that we’ve noticed about incontinence. One of our goals with our product is to empower people with incontinence to live without worries, so that they can regain their confidence to live an active lifestyle. That’s definitely one of our objectives.

Frank:                            That kind of leads me to the next question, and I’m sure every situation is different. Like you said, your son, he was very young at the time, and you decided to test out this product on him. I’m sure, especially at his age, he didn’t fight you on it, he just did it, I would think.

But, if you’re dealing with a senior who still is cognitively fine, but incontinent, are they usually pretty receptive to using this product? How would you suggest bringing this up to a senior who might be reluctant to use it?

Ty:                                   With respect to seniors, we have basically two different types of people. The first type, these are seniors that are very active, they’re still relatively young, they’re in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and they live a very active lifestyle, and for these people, they like to use technology to help them, and they’re very comfortable using technology to assist them, so they personally use our device.

And for example, when they go out, they would wear the sensor, and they would take out the phone to see if they need to go to the bathroom or not, so that’s the first group.

The second group tends to be more older people, who need other people to take care of them, and maybe they’re bed-bound, they’re not as active. For these people, it’s usually the care providers that use our technology, and they would attach the sensor to the patients, or the person that they’re taking care of, and then they would use the technology to assist them.

In the latter case, we’ve seen cases where patients resist using technology, or sensors, and that’s something that we can’t force, so it’s true, like you mentioned, that some people will resist using any product, especially one that attaches to your body.

Frank:                           Right. Would you use the product during the evening, too, or is it mainly during the day?

Ty:                                  That’s a great question. It really depends on that person. I’ve had customers use the product only when they’re going outside, for example, when they go on a long road trip with their family members. They need to tell them if they need to go in advance, so if they’re in a car, they can check the application, and if their bladder’s almost full, they can tell the driver to pull over in the next 20 or 30 minutes.

So that’s one of the ways in which our product is used. There are other cases. One customer of ours had an issue urinating in the middle of the night, so they would wet the bed, and they needed something to wake them up. Our product has a notification function, and a snooze function, so you’ll get a notification with an audible sound, and if that’s not going to get you up, you’re going to get another notification in a few minutes, until you turn on the application, so hopefully that’ll wake you up to get you to the bathroom.

Again, to answer your question, it really depends on the type of issues that people have.

Frank:                            But you would say that not that many people fight it. They’re willing to try it and work with it. Would you say that’s the fair majority?

Ty:                                  Yes, yes. I would say majority of our people, or customers, are willing to try the product. As I mentioned, there’s really no solution for incontinence, aside from wearing diapers, pads, taking medications, or going through surgeries.

This is the only device that is currently available which prevents accidents from happening.

Frank:                            Yeah, I was going to just ask that. Are there other solutions in the market that address the issues?

Ty:                                 Ultrasound technology has been around for quite some time, as you know, and ultrasound is used when you’re pregnant. Hospitals use ultrasound to assess your bladder, but the devices that are currently available tend to be very vague, bulky, and also very expensive.

What we’ve done, is we’ve taken that same technology used in ultrasound, we shrunk that into a sensor at the size of a quarter, and made it wearable, so it’s essentially the same technology, packaged differently, and we currently don’t have any competition in terms of offering same benefits and technology to consumers.

Frank:                            Since you started marketing this, is your target more the individuals, or are you working through hospitals, nursing homes, and other senior living locations? Who are you targeting?

Ty:                                  It’s actually both. Our company, we started our business almost three years ago, and our main focus was B2B, so we were selling DFree to senior care facilities, and we’re actually in over 500 nursing homes in Japan, and France, as of today.

We started out our business mostly in B2B, and last year, we started selling the same product directly to consumers, so we’re relatively unheard of in the consumer space, but we’ve been in business for several years now, and we have this solution that works very well.

Frank:                            I’m sure you’re taking it a step at a time here, but anything on the drawing board that you could share of other products to help seniors, as well, in addition to this?

Ty:                                   Yeah. The only product that we have right now is for urinary incontinence, and we are in the development phase for a sensor for bowel movements, and that’s another area where people suffer, is lack of bowel movement, or people need help with their bowel movements.

We felt that we can apply the same technology, the same sensor to detect bowel movements, and send notifications when you’re about to go to the bathroom. So same concept, same technology, little bit of a different application.

We offer both purchase and rental programs. I’ll  talk a little bit about each program, starting with the rental program. We offer our product for $40 per month, and you can rent it as long as you want, and any rent that you pay goes towards the purchase, so if you’re inclined to buy the device after using it through rental, you can apply whatever you paid in rental towards the purchase price.

The purchase price is $500. There is no recurring service fees, so once you buy the hardware that’s it. You won’t be charged more than that, but I really encourage our customers to take advantage of our rental program, because this device may work in most cases, but for some people it may not, so we want to give our customers an opportunity to try it out, and if they like it they can go ahead and purchase it, and if it’s not for them, we also offer a 30-day money back guarantee, so you can try it for a month.

If it doesn’t work for you, you can just ship back the product, we’ll refund you the rental, the $40 rental, so there’s really nothing to lose by using our device for a month.

Frank:                            Okay. Ty, how can people learn more? Is there a website they can go to? A number they could call? Whatever you want to share.

Ty:                                   Sure. I think the best place to go is our website, and our website URL is dfree.us.biz. That’s D-F-R-E-E-U-S.B-I-Z. Dfreeus.biz.

Frank:                            Great. Ty, thank you so much for joining us. Great information, and best of luck with the product, and I want to thank everybody out there for joining us, as well. Just be safe out there, and we’ll talk to you all soon.

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