Health tracking is all the rage these days. Whether you are an avid gym-goer, a calorie-counter, or just a trail-walker, everyone is trying to positively impact their health. The past few years, there have been many different products emerging that help you digitally track your lifestyle decisions. These are important for those who are trying to make lifestyle changes, or for those who are just trying to maintain their lifestyle. Fitbit and Apple have released many different items to help track your day-to-day activities. Fitbit’s are specifically activity trackers that you wear as a watch, that measure steps, heart rate, sleep, and other personal metrics involved in fitness. The Apple Watch is a line of smartwatches developed by Apple Inc. They track fitness, health decisions, and lifestyle changes as well as operate as a mini-computer on your wrist. While these products have been targeted towards younger crowds, it is important to realize the benefits that they would have towards the older populations, and how a few tweaks to the products could be operated by anyone, technologically challenged or not.
Both of these products, although competitors, have many benefits to people of all ages. Stated earlier, they are both targeted towards the younger population, but after plenty of research, they are likely to positively impact the older population too. Some people have had speculations on the accuracy on Fitbits. A study done in 2015 measures the accuracy of the Fitbit wireless devices in assessing energy expenditure (EE). The study examined twenty participants who performed walking and running trials. They found that The Fitbit significantly underestimated EE for cycling, laundry, raking, treadmill (TM) 3 mph at 5% grade, ascent/descent stairs, and TM 4 mph at 5% grade, and significantly overestimated EE for carrying groceries. Energy expenditure estimated by the Fitbit was not significantly different than EE calculated from the Oxycon Mobile for 9 activities. The variability in underestimation of EE for the different activities may be problematic for weight loss management applications since accurate EE estimates are important for tracking/monitoring energy deficit (Sasaki, Hickey, et al., 2015). This is an important research article to examine when looking for the advantages and disadvantages of these products for older adults. Many older adults are not trying to lose weight, nor are they trying to significantly increase their energy expenditure, which is why the Fitbit product could have positive impacts on that population.
The Apple Watch is quite the cultural phenomenon right now. It is a mini computer on your wrist, and it is booming with popularity in the younger populations, but what are most owners actually using it for? In a recent study in 2015, down at the University of Stockholm’s Mobile Life Centre, studied a dozen apple watch owners and their interaction with their Apple Watch. They used cameras to record how they were using their device. The results show that over 50% of users use it to just check the time and little notifications, while only 2% of them actually use the tracking features (Elmer-Dewitt, et al., 2015). This is an important study to evaluate when deciding if spending 500 dollars on a device is worth it for the older populations. If it is true that they will only use it for lifestyle tracking 2% of the time, then it is not a smart investment. It is clear that the Apple Watch has way too much going on. It not only tracks day-to-day activities, but it also serves as a mini phone on your wrist. Many older adults do not even use cell phones in this day in age, much less a watch that also serves as a phone. It is important to realize that these certain aspects of modern-day technology will turn older adults away.
Goal-setting is an amazing way for older adults to stay positive and motivated. As physical health is declining, the risk for depression increases. In a study done in 2007, it is shown that there is a partial correlation between physical health and depression scores, and that the relationship between physical health and depression is mediated through perceived progress (Street, et al,. 2007). This proves that if an older adult sets daily goals and meets them with the sight of progress, they are less likely to feel depressed. These products are great ways to set goals to improve certain lifestyle traits. Setting a goal of meeting a certain amount of steps in a day, or setting a goal to get a certain amount of sleep will not only help the elder population with routines, but it will also help them as their health is declining.
Another benefit these products have on older adults is increase in physical activity. It is scientifically proven that chronic exercise is associated with improved mood in the elderly. With the use of a Fitbit or apple watch, older adults will be able to track their exercise. This will in turn increase their mood, which will increase their attitude on life. Aerobic exercise increases mood (Reid et al., 2010), and what better way to track your aerobic exercise than with a lifestyle tracker.
Although it is proven that these products could really increase older adult’s lifestyles, they also have some very large drawbacks that could potentially be deal breakers for those older adults. It is stated in a study done in 2013 that businesses need to work on conveying the usefulness and personal benefits of activity monitoring technologies to older adults (Fausset, et al., 2013). Participants’ initial attitudes were positive, but after using the technology for two weeks, attitudes were mixed. Three participants indicated they would continue using the technology, whereas five said they would abandon the technology (Fausset, et al., 2013). There are many different details to lifestyle tracking devices that could be improved to cater the older population.
Next, it is clear that neither the Fitbit or the Apple Watch have a certain “life alert” feature. Something that many older adults need in their day-to-day life is an alert button for if they fall or if something happens to them where they need immediate assistance. Older adults are much more likely to purchase a product that has that feature than one that does not.
Another downfall to these products pertaining to older adults is the small screen size. As we age, our eyesight declines at a rapid pace, and the smaller letters and numbers we used to be able to see, cannot be seen anymore. Both Fitbit and the Apple Watch have very small fonts, making it almost impossible for older adults to be able to read their results. Something that can be done to combat this issue is to create the same products with bigger screens and bigger fonts. This will allow older adults to use the products to the highest potential.
Many older adults have trouble creating full steps, so their step count may not be accurate. Because they shuffle their feet, have smaller steps, static wrist position or have little to no vertical foot displacement, it is proven that activity trackers do not measure their activity levels correctly. The best way to combat this issue is placing a tracker at the hip, which Fitbit has. The Fitbit Ultra can be placed anywhere, and it would be beneficial to older adults to purchase this device.
Lastly, most older adults have not even adapted to the progressive technology in this day in age. Only 42% of adults 65 and up have used a smart phone. If they have not even adapted to the cell phone era, it will take them much longer to rely on smartwatches as a form of communication, lifestyle tracking, and other things.
In conclusion, it is clear that both of these products have many advantages and disadvantages to the older population. In the end, in order to focus on benefiting older adults, all activity trackers will need to update features to enhance lifestyle tracking for the older population. It is very clear that most companies have directed their product towards the younger population, which is something that needs to be changed to benefit all age groups.
Elmer-DeWitt, P. (2015, November 25). Who Needs an Apple Watch, Anyway? Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2015/11/25/apple-watch-frequency-duration/
Fausset, C. B., Mitzner, T. L., Price, C. E., Jones, B. D., Fain, B. W., & Rogers, W. A. (2013). Older Adults’ Use of and Attitudes toward Activity Monitoring Technologies. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 57(1), 1683-1687.
Reid, K., Baron, K., Lu, B., Naylor, E., Wolfe, L., & Zee, P. (2010). Aerobic exercise improves self-reported sleep and quality of life in older adults with insomnia. Sleep Medicine, 11(9), 934-940. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1389945710002868