Edna is a 97 year old Arizonian who hits the gym harder than many Americans.
Starting at age 90, she's stayed accountable by working out with her personal trainer twice a week for almost a decade, claiming the workouts make her “as present and productive as possible.”
Although her story is an inspiration to senior fitness training, health accountability for millions of elders less fortunate than Edna is becoming increasingly more difficult due to the educational gap between fitness technology and purchasing caregivers.
The Digital Playing Field
With investments rising for new digital health apps, so are the concerns of health literacy among those aged 65 years and older.
Health Literacy: The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Another obstacle is in proving digital health technology easy to use and valuable enough for seniors to care.
Ironically—for wearable devices—seniors are the least marketed to while simultaneously being the best candidates for adding extra time to those precious remaining years of life.
In the new era of technology for fitness professionals, digital health coaching that integrates data-driven lifestyle modifications will be a powerful way to help seniors stay more active on and off the gym floor.
Why Use Digital Health For Senior Fitness?
Caregiving costs Americans $522 billion per year and families want technology to help ease that burden.
The number of Americans over the age of 65 is projected to exceed 19 million by 2050, and digital health tech companies are setting a course towards this potentially lucrative crop of new customers.
Before the building swell breaks, if we stop to look around the digital health landscape today, we find applications aimed essentially at millennials and Gen Xers that are leaving seniors behind.
In 2009 and 2010, data was analyzed from a Health and Retirement study that suggests interventions specifically targeting health literacy among older adults may help prevent a widening of the “digital divide.”
For seniors especially, it's highly difficult for one's health-data to change long-term behaviors without having a coach or trainer to meet them where they are.
This is where a new segment of the fitness industry is now being born.
Risks Vs. Rewards
Fitness technology is now yielding some of the most positively impactful tools ever made, with the long term benefits being derived from anecdotal evidence in the early stages, to clinical settings in the long term.
The rewards of innovation do have their side-effects, such as the issue of how to store personal activity data that is currently in debate, with many in the medical industry being fearful of exercise data leaking into a potential hacker's hands.
Personally, I'm not worried about someone knowing how many steps it takes grandma to get the the grocery store.
Novartis has taken a pole-position on unraveling this topic, along with their recent investments and research in wearable technology at the intersection of pharmacology.
Wearable Devices & Apps For Seniors
Active aging technology is a term used to define Senior Fitness, and these four digital health devices are doing a great job of providing real solutions:
This senior friendly wearable measures activity, syncs with a smartphone, and allows healthy competition with friends using a leaderboard. The Flash granularly tracks your steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, and sleep quality and duration. Simplistic in design and cost effective, the Flash is essentially one large button to push and check progress toward a daily goal.
Using discreet wireless sensors placed in the home, including a wearable alert button, BeClose tracks your loved one's daily routine. You'll know they are okay because you will be able to check on them at any time using a private, secure web page.
A small sensor worn on the body, much like a disposable bandage, using a skin-friendly adhesive which transmits wirelessly to a computer system to be interpreted by algorithms which analyze the data. This data flow directly to caregivers for interpretation and action where professionals will be able to monitor vital signs in realtime or store data for later analysis.
The CarePredict system monitors movements and body orientation while keeping track of which room the user is in, and creates a record of your loved one’s daily tempo to make it easier to communicate the bigger picture with other caregivers. It alerts you through email, text, or in-app when there’s a change in your loved one’s daily pattern so you know when to reach out.
It's the first and only Fitbit compatible app that allows users to monitor their elderly loved ones. Users just need to get their loved ones a Fitbit to wear, and the Care|Mind app on their iOS phone. Within the Care|Mind app, users will have a real time status dashboard on all of their loved ones, and receive clinically oriented alerts on their status.
Barriers To Entry
Increased regulations involving mHealth applications, from guidelines established by HIPAA and the U.S Department of Health & Human Services, are slowing the progress of innovative developers who aim to serve the rapidly growing senior digital health whitespace.
Pennsylvania Republican Representative Tom Marino on the matter states: “..the burden should be on a transparent and responsive government to provide clarity and guidance, so companies can focus on growing their businesses and providing better and more innovative products and services to the public.”
To make healthier strides for the future of our aging senior's, the government, medical, and technology sectors need to come together and not regard wearables simply as trends, but realize them as the powerful mindfulness tools they are.
While all seniors won't turn out exactly like Edna, when digital health innovation focuses on creating systems for increased health accountability, we'll all be more likely to stay fit and age gracefully.
About the author: Josh Trent, NASM-CPT, CES, HLC, is a fitness professional with over 9 years in the industry. His passion is to empower people's lives through technology by utilizing digital health and quantified self as integrative health practices. You can follow him on Twitter @wellnessforce or through his website at www.wellnessforce.com.