Seniors, Cardiac Devices and Magnets Don't Mix

In May 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that cellphones, smartphones, and smart watches with magnets inside could cause implanted cardiac devices (ICD’s) to malfunction. The FDA reinforced this warning last month about keeping newer portable electronic devices with even stronger magnets out of the front pocket and away from the chest area. Given the widespread use of electronic devices that use magnets we’re not even thinking about, how can seniors and caregivers in San Diego avoid serious issues with cardiac devices?

Digital devices and accessories are widely popular because of convenience, health monitoring functions and the way so many devices can be wirelessly charged. More devices than we realize have magnets inside so that the camera, speakers, vibration mode, and even docking to car mounts or charging stations can work. Is this a big problem for people providing or receiving in home care in San Diego? Well, active seniors may tuck their phones in their front pockets or garments, and the elderly in home care may have a smart watch monitoring their heart rate. Device manufacturers are watching these interactions carefully. Apple, for example, warned consumers last March 29 that the magnets inside the iPhone 12 posed a risk to people with ICD’s because of their sensitivity to magnets.

Personal electronic devices with strong magnets are dangerous to people with ICD’s because of a design feature that allows remote control of the device. Per the FDA’s May 2021 press release, “Many implanted medical devices are designed with a “magnet mode” to allow for safe operation during certain medical procedures such as undergoing an MRI scan. These safety features are typically engaged by physicians with the use of a high field strength magnet that is placed near the implanted device placing it into a ‘magnet mode.’ Removal of the magnetic field causes the device to return to normal operation.” It’s very easy to put a smart phone, digital pen or ear buds in the front pocket or on the chest for use or safekeeping. How much thought are we giving to how close that device is coming to a device implanted in the heart?

The first inkling of a problem came in early 2021. “[D]octors at the Henry Ford Health System said they found the iPhone 12’s magnets were strong enough to deactivate certain implanted cardiac devices, by passing the smartphone over a patient’s chest while monitoring their connected defibrillator.” Since last May, researchers have conducted a formal study involving a wider array of devices. The study conducted in Switzerland examined the magnetic range and strength of Apple AirPods Pro and its wireless charging case, the Microsoft Surface Pen, the Apple Pencil (second generation), along with the iPhone 12 Pro Max which was the smartphone involved in the original episode. Next, researchers will investigate other common devices including e-cigarettes and other brands of digital pen as well as expand to include live patients at the hospital for testing.

So how can seniors and their home care companions in San Diego prevent a serious health problem? The American Heart Association advises that people with cardiac electronic implantable devices should keep devices that contain magnets several inches away from their chests at all times. According to a report on Healio.com, the FDA offered the following precautions for patients with implanted medical devices:

  • “keep the consumer electronics such cell phones and smartwatches 6 inches away from implanted medical devices;
  • do not carry electronics in a pocket over the medical device;
  • check implanted medical devices using a home monitoring system if one is present; and
  • consult a health care provider if there are symptoms or questions regarding this issue.”

Personal tech devices add new functions and utilities in each generation while also extending to the area of health tracking and monitoring. Magnets are apparently vital to some of those capabilities. Our phones are at hand all the time, but they don’t belong on or near the chests of cardiac device users.