AARP Study Sees Promise In Wearables For Senior Health

But usability must improve for long-term acceptance
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But usability must improve for long-term acceptance

Washington -- A study by senior advocacy group AARP reveals that the over-50 demographic found wearable activity and sleep trackers effective in encouraging better health habits, but many found the devices lacking in ease of use.

The results of a study, done in conjunction with Georgia Tech Research Institute's HomeLab, in which 92 older consumers were given one of seven popular wearable devices to use for six weeks, showed a marked improvement in activity levels, sleep quality, motivation and behavior.

At the end of the six-week trial:

• 71 percent of participants reported increased awareness of activity, sleep or eating habits;

• 45 percent reported increased motivation;

• 46 percent said they changed their behavior; and   

• 67 percent of participants reported the activity and sleep tracker to be beneficial or of value.

However, participants also said the devices' design and utility are lacking in features that would encourage long-term use or adoption. The gap between expectations and reality indicates a significant opportunity to better serve the 50-plus market, the study concluded.

 "Despite what some people may think, the study showed that consumers in the 50-plus age group enjoy interacting with technology when it provides them with constructive and usable feedback on their goals," said Dr. Brad Fain, a director of Georgia Tech's HomeLab. "They are motivated to use new products that help them achieve good health and avoid illness – important findings as we seek to improve technology and make life easier for this underserved population."

With regard to how future activity and sleep trackers can be improved for consumers in the 50-plus age range, the study confirmed that the success of the next generation of trackers is directly correlated to their ease of use and their effectiveness.

"The recommendations that came out of the study are to make trackers better able to share information on health goals important to 50-plus consumers, simplify set up, make them unobtrusive to wear and easier to maintain, and provide more features like timely alerts and instantaneous access to information," said Jody Holtzman, AARP senior VP of thought leadership. "If these qualities are prioritized, the potential in the 50-plus market for activity and sleep trackers is likely to grow."

 Specific recommendations from the study's participants included:

• Providing detailed, easy-to-understand instructions;

• Providing an explanation of how activity and sleep trackers collect data;

• Ensuring robust syncing capabilities;

• Ensuring comfort while wearing the tracker;

• Enabling timely notifications targeted to 50-plus consumers;

• Providing a display for instant information access; and

• Incorporating additional sensors related to health-specific conditions

The study is part of AARP's Project Catalyst initiative, which encourages the development of products that can improve the quality of life for aging Americans by raising awareness of their economic power and conducting research about their wants and needs regarding innovative products. According to AARP, the 50-plus demographic is comprised of more 100 million people responsible for at least $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity – a figure that is expected to reach well over $13.5 trillion in real terms by 2032, according to Oxford Economics.

The study, "Building a Better Tracker: Older Consumers Weigh in On Activity and Sleep Monitoring Devices," is the first of several health technology studies under Project Catalyst.

A complete copy of the study can be accessed here.


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