Savonia Article: Analyzing wearable device in eldery care
The human population is aging rapidly. The World Health Organization estimates that there were 1 billion persons over the age of 60 in 2019 and by the end of 2030, there will be 1,4 billion and 2,1 billion by 2050. As people age, immune system functionality decreases which may result in sudden death or increase vulnerability to virus and diseases. (World Health Organization 2021)
Many factors including their environment, social status, and educational background influence how people age according to the WHO (2021). Physical and social environments may contribute positively to public health and promote healthy longevity, but physical activities often decrease with age, and this is a leading health problem globally. (World Health Organization 2021) Older adults may face unique challenges related to physical mobility, cognitive function, social isolation, and other age-related issues (Hekmat-panah 2019).
Wearable technology used to promote wellness and improved healthcare outcomes is rapidly advancing and gaining popularity among different age groups. The market for wearable devices, including those that cater to the elderly population, is expanding. Wearable devices have the potential to enhance the lives of elderly individuals by providing them with increased safety and health monitoring, potentially helping them to stay independent for longer (Montero-Odasso et al. 2021). This thesis explores whether there are specific wearable devices for the elderly and the elderly perception of these devices.
This study considers the elderly to be people over the age of 65 years, living in a service home, or with one or two ailments.
Wearable devices or “wearables” are a rapidly growing class of electronic devices that can be worn on the body. They typically incorporate sensors, connectivity, and data processing capabilities that have the potential to address many health- and care-related challenges and improve quality of life. One of the primary benefits of wearable technology for the elderly is safety (Raad 2021, p8). Wearable devices equipped with GPS tracking can help caregivers and family members monitor the location of elderly individuals with dementia who may wander off and get lost. These devices can also alert emergency services and caregivers in case of falls or accidents, which can be particularly crucial for individuals with limited mobility. There are many wearables in today’s market such as Apple watch, Oura ring, Samsung Fit, Fitbit, trackers etc. Are all appropriate for the elderly population, and are there specific wearables for the elderly?
The aging population is growing rapidly and the need for healthcare professionals is also increasing. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in low- and middle-income countries there will be about a 10 million healthcare workforce shortage by the year 2030 (WHO 2023). In Finland, the shortage of healthcare professionals by the year 2030 is estimated to be around 20.000 (YLE News 2022). Older adults often have challenges related to mobility, cognitive function, and social isolation creating a need for caregiver support at home or at a service home. Health monitoring is a significant need for the elderly, and it may be achieved with the use of wearable technology. Wearable devices can monitor vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels, providing caregivers and family members with valuable information about the elderly person’s health status. Wearable devices can also track activity levels, sleep patterns, and medication schedules, helping elderly individuals maintain healthy habits and allowing caregivers to intervene when necessary.
Wearable devices have the potential to make a significant difference in developing countries, but there are obstacles hindering their development. In developing countries, the wearable device concept in supporting elderly is new compared to developed countries like Finland. Many factors can affect the usage of wearables in developing countries. In Nigeria for example, these factors include low life expectancy, cultural beliefs i.e., children having the responsibility to look after their parents, and cost. Lack of infrastructure such as a reliable power supply and unreliable internet connections are a challenge in the adoption of wearable devices in Nigeria.
The author supported his findings using the “4P medicine model” (Fuller-Shavel 2020). This model refers to Predictive, Preventive, Personalized, and Participatory. This approach can also be applied to elderly people’s use of wearables (Boffetta, Collatuzzo 2022). Prediction refers to using data and technology to predict health outcomes and identify potential health risks before potential health issues arise. Wearables may promote prevention by empowering the elderly to take proactive steps to prevent health issues by encouraging healthy behaviors and lifestyle changes. Wearable devices can be used to implement preventive measures to avoid or reduce the risk of developing health issues. Wearable devices enable personalized healthcare by tailoring interventions and treatments to an elderly specific need. Through continuous monitoring and data analysis, wearable devices may provide insights into an elderly person’s unique health profile, including physiological, behavioral, and environmental factors. Wearable devices may encourage participation. Elderly individuals can be encouraged to take an active role in their health and wellness by engaging them in monitoring and managing. This can include setting health goals, tracking progress, receiving notifications and reminders.
The 4P medical model applied to wearable devices for the elderly emphasizes the use of data-driven predictions, preventive measures, personalized interventions, and active participation to promote proactive healthcare and wellness management. Elderly individuals may have better insight into their health and take proactive steps to optimize their well-being.
The research indicates that elderly people are willing to adopt wearables devices as a tool for promoting personal health. Furthermore, there appears to be limited concern about privacy issues. Cognitive issues may be a barrier for adoption of wearables for some elderly individuals.
Research indicates that devices such as personal emergency response systems (PERS), medication administration reminders, hearing aids, and GPS trackers are sometimes meant specifically for the elderly population. However, there are many other wearables such as steps trackers designed for everyone regardless of age that may be used by elderly, but the issue of usability must be considered. This issue was not addressed in this thesis.
It’s important to note that wearable devices are not a replacement for professional care but can be a valuable addition to it. Older adults who are considering wearable devices should work with their healthcare providers to choose devices that are appropriate for their specific needs and health conditions. Caregivers and loved ones can also play an important role in supporting older adults in their use of wearable devices by providing training and assistance as needed.
Wearable devices can offer cost savings by reducing the need for hospitalizations or emergency care through early detection and intervention of health issues. They can also provide personalized medicine by collecting individualized health data that can inform treatment plans and care decisions. Additionally, wearable devices can improve communication between older adults and their caregivers or healthcare providers, facilitating timely reporting of symptoms or concerns.
Finally, wearable devices can contribute to improved patient outcomes and quality of life for older adults. By promoting safety, health monitoring, and independence, wearable devices can help older adults to live at home rather than in a care facility.
Future work should research the availability and usability of wearables in developing countries. Cultural, technical, and financial issues must be addressed to promote adoption of wearables. When designing wearable devices for the elderly, it is essential to consider specific needs and limitations related to this population. For example, seniors may have vision and hearing impairments, limited mobility, and difficulty using complex technology. To address these issues, wearable devices must be user-friendly, with larger buttons, high contrast displays, and intuitive interfaces.
The article is based on the master’s thesis of Olorunleke Igunnuoda. References are available from the first writer.
Olorunleke Igunnuoda, Student of master’s degree Programme in Digital Health, Savonia UAS
Bryn Lane, MBA, International Business, Finance, CFA, Charted Financial Analyst, Lecturer, Savonia UAS
Liisa Klemola, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Master’s Degree Programme in Digital Health, Savonia UAS