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Sharp Health News

Wearable fitness tech: not just for the young

March 10, 2016

Seniors and wearable tech

Peruse any electronics store and you will find a vast selection of wearable fitness technology in a kaleidoscope of colors. With advances in distance, sleep and heart rate monitoring, millions use these devices to gain control of their health and track their improvements with software applications.

With 1 in 5 Americans reaching the age at which they are considered a senior citizen — age 55 — by 2030, smart wearable tech companies are targeting this demographic. And they have found success: older adults adopted wearable technology faster than expected.

Older adults now use wearable devices to monitor their health statistics 16 percent more often than those ages 18 to 29, according to be.group, a nonprofit provider of senior living communities. Approximately 50 percent of older adults use them to examine cholesterol levels, 75 percent supervise weight, and more than 40 percent observe physical activity and then apply this knowledge to create new exercise goals.  

“Wearing a fitness tracker allows you to customize your goals along the way,” says Sharp Health Plan wellness and behavior change expert Heather O’Gorman. “If an older adult walks an average of 5,000 steps per day, he or she can make small goals to reach 6,000 steps before the end of the day. The fitness tracker also acts as a motivator, giving users encouragement once they reach their goals and other significant milestones.”

These devices can also help reduce the loneliness older adults feel as they age. The technology shows how active other users are, which can generate a little friendly competition. This may allow them to reach their fitness goals faster and serve as a support network, keeping them healthy and happy.

Older adults and caregivers can also use them for other vital functions including medication management and medical alerts like fall detection, and many come equipped with GPS tracking, which is especially helpful for those with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It can allow seniors to become more independent, providing great stress and time relief to caregivers.

Still, work needs to be done. In a 2015 study conducted by the AARP in conjunction with Georgia Tech and Pfizer, 92 users over age 50 were supplied fitness trackers of various popular brands. Although they found value in the devices (67 percent said they benefited from the trackers), they fell short in functionality and comfortability. Thus, with some tweaking, wearable tech could explode in even greater popularity with older adults.

By 2019, estimates suggest consumers will spend $8.3 billion on wearables — evidence that these devices are not a fad and can cause a significant change in caregiving and how older adults stay healthy.

Learn how to approach aging from a healthy perspective at Sharp’s upcoming “Life’s Transitions Seminar: Changing Health Care Needs Through the Years,” a free event to be held Thursday, April 14 at 9 am, at La Mesa Community Center.

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