June 16, 2014

Activity Trackers Needed for Older Adults

Activity-monitoring apps, Web sites, and wearable devices are available, but for older adults are not well designed for usability. This is because product designers do not consider those over 65 to be a viable user group. The medical profession also is extremely slow to promote activity monitoring for any age group even though this may be helpful in finding out how patients are activity-motivated.

This technology could be helpful for older adults to improve their cognitive function through proper nutrition and exercise. New human factors/ergonomics research indicates that the current technology presents usability challenges for this population.

Using technology could allow for easy self-management of health and wellness. This would also allow many older adults who have chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension to self-manage their health more effectively. “Research has shown that they want to track their diet and exercise, but most don’t use activity-monitoring technologies to do so.”

In research presented at the 2014 International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care in April, authors Preusse, Tracy Mitzner, Cara Fausset, and Wendy Rogers designed a study assessing the usability of two popular Web-based and wearable activity trackers.”

The study asked older adults to track their nutrition and exercise over two weeks (too short) and report on usability issues they experienced. They were also asked about their attitudes toward to technology. The authors did a separate analysis of both trackers to uncover any design issues that could be problematic for older adults.

Usability problems the researchers found included low color contrast between icons and the screen background, small fonts, and inconsistent navigation bars among the Web sites. Study participants saw the technology as inaccurate when tracking step counts and sleep patterns. Many also reported difficulty remembering to log their information and use the device. This problem could be mitigated by nagware or more prominent reminders.

Activity-monitoring technologies can make tracking nutrition and exercise easier because they gather some data automatically and display trends over time. More studies in this nature should be encouraged and promoted by geriatricians in colleges and universities across the country. This might get the attention of product designers and manufacturers and prove how the technology could be advantageous to older adults in managing their health.

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