AARP: Older adults willing to use mHealth, but tools must be simpler, easier to wear

Consumers age 50 and older are willing to embrace activity and sleep trackers, but not without some changes to the devices, reveals a new collaborative report by AARP Project Catalyst initiative and Georgia Tech HomeLab.

For the study, 92 elderly consumers were provided one of seven off-the-shelf activity/sleep tracking devices to use daily for six weeks. The goal was to gain insight on how the consumer segment used and viewed the tools for helping track activity, such as calorie intake and steps, and collecting and reporting healthcare-related data, such as heartbeat rate.

The overall feedback from the research is that effectiveness and usability are key elements to consumer use and trust, with 77 percent considering the tools as useful, and 71 percent reporting that the devices helped them gain greater insight of activity and sleep patterns. Nearly half of all respondents, 45 percent, said the devices boosted motivation to be healthier, and 46 percent said testing the devices helped increased activity levels.

Support for such tools is evident based on the outcome of the Fitbit IPO and research firms' predictions about mHealth. The FitBit IPO opened at $20 a share, valuing the company at $4.1 billion. Just hours later the share price jumped even higher, rising above $30 before market close.

In addition, a recent report expects this year may be the "breakthrough" year for revenue and consumer adoption of fitness and mHealth wearables.

In the AARP Project Catalyst report, 42 percent of respondents said they intend to continue using tracking devices in the future. Yet many participants discontinued use during the research period, citing four main reasons: data inaccuracy; challenges in finding and using instructions; device malfunctions, including data syncing issues; and difficulties in attaching and wearing devices.

"Participants who did not find the devices to be useful said that they wanted more data related to their specific conditions and that they wanted notification if the data indicated something of concern," the authors said. "More sensors relevant to health conditions was the most common suggestion for improvement."

Greater adoption is tied to making devices more focused on the health goals of 50-plus consumers, simpler to set up, unobtrusive to wear and maintain, the report says. Providing meaningful and timely alerts and instantaneous access to information also are pertinent.

For more information:
- read the AARP report (.pdf)

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