Motivating seniors to track their health

From the mHealthNews archive
By Eric Wicklund
09:17 am

Approximately one of every three Americans is older than 50, and they're remaining active and living longer. Meanwhile, roughly one in every 10 Americans owns an activity or sleep tracker  while seven out of 10 know what they are. But only one of every four people using an activity or sleep tracker is a senior.

Any guesses as to where the market might be heading?

A new report from the AARP cites the "great promise" that activity trackers hold for the senior market – for which health monitoring is and will continue to be essential. "The quality of their years is just as important as the quantity," the report notes, "and they are searching for tools to help them stay healthy and productive as they age  specifically tools that monitor progress toward wellness goals (steps, distance or elevation walked, for instance) and alert them to negative health developments (such as abnormal glucose or heart rate readings)."

But when it comes to wearable devices, seniors have different concerns and needs than other age groups. And that's what's keeping them away from the devices so far.

[Related: Patient experience officers are on the rise.]

The report focuses on a study conducted by the AARP's Project Catalyst initiative, with help from Georgia Tech's Research Institute HomeLab, in which close to 100 seniors were equipped with one of seven popular health and fitness trackers and told to go about their lives for six weeks. According to that study, a full 77 percent of the seniors said trackers have the potential to be useful to them, 45 percent reported increased motivation to live a healthier lifestyle, and 46 percent reported actually being more active or eating or sleeping better – but less than half (42 percent) planned to continue using the tracker.

In fact, the report indicated many of the seniors taking part in the study abandoned their trackers before the end of the six-week period – the average was 32 days.

The seniors surveyed cited four common barriers to long-term adoption of wearable devices: perceived inaccuracies with the data; challenges in finding the instructions for the device or learning how to use it; perceived malfunctions with the device, especially in synching data; and problems with comfort (putting on or wearing the device).

So how can wearables be designed to appeal to the 50-plus crowd? The AARP report offers a few suggestions:

  1. Provide easy to use, detailed instructions
  2. Explain how the device collects data
  3. Ensure that synching is easy and robust
  4. Make it comfortable
  5. Make the notifications timely and targeted to the senior audience
  6. Include an easy-to-read display that offers instant access to information
  7. Offer integration with additional health sensors that would appeal to seniors

In summing up the seniors' experiences, AARP researchers said wearable devices that can track both activity and vital signs hold promise for the senior market if they can be made informative, simple, accessible, invisible, instantaneous, targeted and meaningfully engaging. That's a lot to fit into something that's supposed to be worn unobtrusively on the wrist.

Then again, this is a population that wants – and needs  to wear these devices most. 

See also: 

New project to test whether wearables meet seniors' needs

Infographic: Seniors and technology

Smartwatches are missing a crucial market