Smartphone apps motivate older patients to improve health

Smartphone apps motivated more than two-thirds of participants in a Stanford University study to exercise more, sit less and improve their diet.

The study focused on older Americans--45- to 77-year-olds--using smartphone apps "to deliver the nudges that might improve adults' physical activity levels," principal investigator Abby King said in a statement.

The study was relatively small--it included only 31 participants--but the findings were nearly unanimous. More than 80 percent of participants said the apps helped raise their awareness about healthier behaviors, and more than 75 percent said the apps helped them track, and thus improve, the same behaviors. Interestingly, none of the participants had ever owned or operated a smartphone prior to the study, but 96 percent ultimately reported the devices were a "fast, efficient means of gaining information," on their health habits.

Participants were each handed a smartphone with a single application aimed at one of the target behaviors--walking more, sitting less or eating better. They used the apps for eight weeks, Stanford officials reported. Researchers plan more studies of the smartphone/motivation connection, particularly among Latino populations in the U.S. and internationally.

Stanford's work isn't the first to tackle the seniors/aging issue when it comes to mobile health. We told you last fall about senior residential facilities using iPads to improve memory and mobility among residents, and a Wake Forest University study in January 2011 that used iPad apps to track seniors' mobility levels.

To learn more:
- read the Stanford announcement.
- check out the Stanford program descriptions
- check out this poster outlining the results (.pdf)