University probes health and fitness benefits of wearable tech for over-55s
The Open University, headquartered in Milton Keynes, is investigating the health & fitness benefits of wearable technology for over-55s. It is running the rule over a range of digital health-monitoring aids to see whether wearables currently on the market can be made more age friendly.
The OU project, funded by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust and carried out in partnership with the charity Age UK Milton Keynes, will examine how older people get on with a mix of available devices, ranging from activity trackers to ‘smart’ watches.
The research will follow a number of people over 55 using devices typically designed as wristbands or watches which enable wearers to monitor fitness measures such as number of steps walked, heart rate, sleeping patterns or calories expended.
Shailey Minocha, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing, is leading the Open University research along with co-investigators, Dr Caroline Holland and Dr Duncan Banks, working with researchers Catherine McNulty and Alice Peasgood.
Professor Minocha said: “We want to try and understand what benefits these devices may bring in terms of helping older people to monitor their health, maintain their mobility, even improve their social interactions.
“We also want to understand the difficulties – do older people have access to the technology to download the data from these devices? Are the displays so small that older people can’t read them? Are the appearances of the devices acceptable to older people and are they designed to fit in with their lifestyle?”
The research will also involve relatives, carers and health professionals who may be involved in downloading or interpreting data from these devices, exploring the challenges they face and the issues of privacy and ethical dilemmas.
The emphasis is not on the devices themselves, which are changing all the time as technology evolves. Instead researchers are focused on developing a set of recommendations which can be used by the fitness tracking industry in their product development and by healthcare professionals in their practice. The industry is currently geared mainly to young people.
The research will feed into the NHS agenda where digital health innovation is becoming a priority.
A report by digital entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox to the NHS National Information Board last year recommended increased take-up of Internet-enabled services in health and care.
“The technology is developing so fast, more and more people will be monitoring their health themselves and will be sending data to professionals based elsewhere,” says Prof. Minocha.
“In future, these devices will play an important role in older people’s wellbeing. They could help to prevent strokes or help a doctor monitor someone to determine if they are fit enough to undergo chemotherapy, or if the patient is keeping themselves mobile enough for sustained recovery after a medical intervention.”
Picture courtesy: John Biehler
johnbiehler.com / https://www.flickr.com/photos/retrocactus/13572009194/