Open University investigates role of wearables in making older life easier

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/BrilliantEye)

Most wearables focus on improving the fitness of the physically ablebut researchers from the Open University have launched a year-long study into whether trackers such as Fitbits can improve the lives of people over 55 through employing a range of health-monitoring technologies. 

Shailey Minocha, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing, said: "We want to try and understand what benefits these devices may bring in terms of helping older people to monitor their health, maintain their mobility, even improve their social interactions." 

The research will look into the whole spectrum of how suitable current wearables are for the older generation – including how accessible they are to use and whether the devices are made appealing for the age group. 

"We also want to understand the difficulties – do older people have access to the technology to download the data from these devices? Are the displays so small that older people can't read them? Are the appearances of the devices acceptable to older people and are they designed to fit in with their lifestyle?," continued Professor Minocha. 

Relatives, health professionals, and other carers will be involved with the research to determine whether the information provided by the wearables can help them in providing better help. Instead of focusing solely on the current devices, the research aims to develop recommendations for the industry to improve their future wearables. 

Fitbit is one company which has long said it wants to expand beyond fitness tracking and into more vital medical devices. From a business standpoint, it seems to be a natural progression, but it won't be easy for the company as they'll be subject to all the complicated FDA regulations. 

Recommendations from the Open University's research would be welcome by company's like Fitbit who are innovative technology manufacturers but who are not yet experienced in such a complicated and established industry – allowing companies to ensure the products they develop are suitable. 

The launch of the study comes as the NHS expands its own research into digital health innovations – with a report by digital entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox to the NHS National Information Board last December recommending an increased take-up of internet-enabled services in health and care"The technology is developing so fast, more and more people will be monitoring their health themselves and will be sending data to professionals based elsewhere," says Professor Minocha. 

The Open University has conducted thorough previous research on the wellbeing of older people, and this will expand on their work to find digital solutions to some of the problems. None of us will avoid getting old so it's within everyone's best interest to support any endeavour to make later life more comfortable. 

Do you believe wearables can make elderly life easier? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Kat D
12 Aug 2016, 8:42 p.m.

While wearables like the FitBit would likely help, what's really needed is an innovative health wearable that focusses more on wellbeing than fitness goals. One of the cool startups in the space to watch is www.salu.ca - creators of the world's first compact wearable to measure blood pressure (and more!) without an inflatable cuff. It looks easy for anyone to use and the app give suggests for the everyman... not just for the gym buff.

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