The Greek playwright, Sophocles, once wrote, “A man growing old becomes a child again.” Indeed, the needs of many seniors sometimes mirror those of children. Once-independent seniors can sometimes find themselves relying on family members or caregivers for basic necessities like food, transportation, household chores, and health care. But technology habits of younger generations can help address some of the challenge that aging seniors face. More seniors are turning to mobile technology to live healthier lives.
What is mHealth and How Can It Help Improve Health Outcomes for Seniors?
Patients 65 years and older are the fastest growing population in the United States. This group also represents the sickest population and most expensive to treat. Mobile technology, or mHealth, initiatives offer great potential to improve health outcomes for these seniors. But seniors need access to the technology in order to use it. Unfortunately, poorer seniors are more likely to have significant health challenges and less likely to use technology services because they don’t own smartphones.
Still, seniors continue to adopt technology at a steady pace. The Pew Research Center reports the percentage of seniors age 65 and older who own a smartphone jumped from 18 percent in 2014 to 27 percent in 2015. And those seniors fluent with the technology are using it to maintain and improve their health.
Traditionally, patients often wait until scheduled doctors’ appointments to track basic biometric data like blood pressure, heart rate, and weight. Increasingly, those metrics and others are tracked through any number of apps easily downloadable to your smartphone. Monitoring and tracking these metrics can help seniors catch a potential health issue that may have otherwise gone unnoticed until the next doctor’s visit.
How mHealth Can Help Monitor Health
Cognitive health is another significant concern for seniors. More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, and the overwhelming majority are over the age of 65. The Alzheimer’s Association reports staying mentally active can help protect against the disease, and mHealth technology can help. Mobile apps like Lumosity, Fit Brains, and others, can help seniors stay mentally sharp with cognitive games.
For seniors living with chronic illness, no medicine will help unless it is taken as prescribed. While this sounds simple and obvious, adhering to a medication schedule can be a challenge for patients managing multiple diseases that require multiple prescriptions. Consider these statistics from American College of Preventive Medicine:
- About 20 to 50 percent of patients do not take their medications as prescribed.
- Nonadherence accounts for 10 to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions.
- At least 125,000 Americans die each year due to poor medication adherence.
- Nonadherence creates an annual economic burden of $100 to $300 billion.
Now seniors can turn to several mHealth initiatives to maintain their prescription schedule. The best apps not only send email or text alerts when it’s time to take medicine, they can also help seniors monitor dose limits and interactions with other prescriptions, and share information with caregivers and clinicians.
Still in its early stages, mHealth continues to evolve with the needs of an increasing senior population. Technology can help seniors better connect with their clinicians, and also empower them to take charge of their health. As technology adoption rates continue to trend upward, seniors may soon practice a variation of the advice they once gave their children: An app a day may help keep the doctor away.
Bio: Julie Potyraj is the community manager for the MHA@GW and MPH@GW blogs, both offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. For several years, she served as a community health and education volunteer in rural Zambia. She is currently an MPH@GW student studying global health.