Wearable technology like smartwatches and fitness trackers are becoming increasingly common devices to help people stay motivated towards their health goals. Mobile trackers can remind people when they have been sedentary too long, monitor heart rates and record sleep quality.
While these are all handy features for any person, for the elderly this technology can provide an important level of monitoring and care to improve their overall health.
Boosting activity with fitness trackers
LiveScience reported on a study in which 50 women aged in their 50s and 60s were monitored for several weeks, with half the group wearing a FitBit fitness tracker and the other half wearing a basic pedometer. The FitBit is worn on the wrist and tracks the number of steps a person takes, alerts the person when it's time to move again, records sleep and in some models will measure heart rates. The pedometer, on the other hand, only tracks the number of steps taken.
The participants were overweight women who said that they did not exercise often. During the course of the study they were asked to achieve 150 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity. By the end of four months, the women using the FitBit were logging 62 more minutes of activity than those who had the standard pedometers.
The study was led by Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She told LiveScience that behavior changes can be easier to form when there is a tracking or feedback system in place. With both of these devices, she said, the participants received a level of tracking and feedback, but those who got more detailed reports on their activity with the fitness trackers were getting superior feedback that kept them motivated. These kind of devices work to make the wearer more accountable for their goals than a standard step counter would.
"It's about taking it to the next level of providing appropriate, responsive support and leveraging the technology to try to create effective interventions that are cheap enough to be used on a broad scale," she said.
Cadmus-Bertram's group plans to do more studies in the future on a wide range of participants to see just how much a fitness tracker can improve the activity of people at varying ages.
Health monitoring for seniors
There are many brands of fitness trackers on the market that offer varying levels of monitoring. Some, like the CarePredict, are made especially with senior's unique health and comfort concerns in mind. These senior-focused trackers can also report back to care providers to alert them of a sudden or alarming change in activity, which can help improve the level of home care seniors can have.
A study by the American Association of Retired Persons found that 67 percent of participants aged 50 and older found fitness trackers beneficial. They did see areas where the technology could be expanded, however, like by including additional health features such as monitoring blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.
Researches with the University of the New Mexico University College of Engineering are trying to develop a more senior-focused wearable that would help with fall prevention. The motion sensors that help monitor steps taken would also be used to alert a person if their movements are putting him at risk of falling. Using information like the user's age, weight and walking speed, the device could determine if a person's gate is too wide or steps are too quick, which could impact stability.
Overall, fitness trackers could really help seniors stay active and help monitor their heart rates to alert them if there are any worrisome changes. As these products continue to evolve, they could become essential pieces of equipment for maintaining elderly health.