Promoting Health For Seniors With Wearable Watches

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Introduction

In the past two years, watches, like the Apple Watch and Fitbit, have become popular among today’s younger and older generation.  Their main function is tracking an individual’s daily activities to support their personal fitness and health goals.  As these products became more popular, their capabilities expanded.  Today, much of the watches work in conjunction with smartphone’s and can perform similar functions that a person’s smartphone is capable of. 

The watches are worn throughout the entire day and sometimes during the night.  In terms of health and fitness, the watch tracks fitness-related metrics such as distance walked or run, calorie consumption, monitors sleep cycles/ quality of sleep, and a person’s heartbeat.  These are the basic features that nearly all fitness watches, currently on the market, provide.  The more advanced watches will almost mimic the functions of a smartphone; receiving calls, text, and emails, and vice versa, sending texts and calls; in addition to tracking daily health and fitness practices.  Some of the watches can take pictures or videos, and contain the same applications found on one’s smartphone.

The following research articles evaluate the reliability and accuracy of the Apple Watch and Fitbit products.

Apple Watch versus Fitbit

Currently, there are numerous brands of wearable devices on the market to suit the consumers’ preferences and needs.  One area the devices are extremely prominent in is healthcare; to encourage exercise and require individuals to be aware of their daily health and exercise habits.  Specifically, in the American culture, many fattening foods are consumed and more people have retired to on sedentary lifestyles, for various reasons.  Therefore, these watches aim to revert such habits and increase a person’s caloric expenditure and promote healthy nutrition/lifestyle habits overall.  These products are marketed to consumers as “beneficial, user friendly, and accurate” (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).  The following research article depicts how accurate these claims truly are.  The study, by Kim and Kawekannate (2016), evaluates customer satisfaction, user friendliness, and how accurate the Fitbit (and similar products) are.  The study selected four of the top ten products and Fitbit Flex was one of these products (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).  Each product includes the following features; step counter, distance counter, and sleep tracker.  The subjects in the study wore each watch for one week and evaluated them based on how easy it was to use, the battery life, its ability to synchronize with a smartphone, the hardware design, and the user interface application (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).

After wearing each device for one week, the subjects entered Likert scores into an evaluation form.  The Fitbit scored the lowest in satisfaction related to stair tracking.  The device was not able to track activity involving ascending or descending exercises (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).  However, the Fitbit Flex has a sleek and fashionable design and it is fully water resistant, with excellent social features.  It does not have a screen but a tap screen that many find confusing (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).  And the user interface application for food logging and calorie tracking requires much time invested to learn how to properly use it (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).

Overall, the objective of the study was to determine which of the four top wearable devices was the best.  The study utilized primarily objective and subjective methods to determine results.  The information was valuable for persons considering buying such a device but the author emphasizes that these devices are not capable of displaying the information and a smartphone is needed to send the metric data and reports; making it rather inconvenient to use both devices in conjunction with one another (Kim & Kaewkannate, 2016).

In comparison to the Fitbit, a more basic style fitness watch (but does include varying levels of watches), the Apple Watch is a more advanced and higher technological form of a wearable device.  One thing to consider, is the previous study evaluated the Fitbit Flex, which is a basic wearable device.  A more comparable device to the Apple Watch in the Fitbit line, is the Fitbit Blaze.

Researchers at Cleveland Clinic tested four of the wearable fitness trackers with the addition of a chest strap as a fifth test (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  They tested the devices in terms of heart rate accuracy during different types of exercise and at varying intensity levels (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The study included fifty volunteers who were mainly Cleveland Clinic employees (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The average age of participants was 38 years old, with 43 percent females (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The participants were randomly assigned two of the four wearable heart rate monitors, with one on each wrist.  The four devices tested (selected based on highest sales) were the Apple Watch, Fitbit Blaze, Garmin Forerunner 235, and TomTom Spark Cardio (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The researchers recorded the participants heart rate during rest, and after light, moderate, and vigorous exercise during three different forms of exercise (treadmill, stationary bike, and elliptical) (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The researchers found that the chest strap monitor was the most accurate and most closely resembled the readings of an electrocardiogram (EKG) (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The wearable devices were most accurate at reporting heart rate at rest and somewhat accurate on the treadmill during light exercise (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  However, while using the bicycle or elliptical the wrist-worn heart rate monitors were less accurate, and the Apple Watch was the only device with accurate heart rate readings during all forms of exercise (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  Additionally, the other devices became even less accurate during higher intensity exercises (e.g. lifting), with the exception for the Apple Watch and the chest strap monitor (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  The limitations of this study are its size and amount of repetition.  To ensure validity, further research needs to be conducted.  The researchers also support that more studies are needed to evaluate the accuracy of these devices in measuring heart rate in individuals with heart failure, diabetes, and in individuals who have experienced a heart attack or are obese (American College of Cardiology, 2017).  And Doctor Marc Gillinov, recommends using the standard chest strap to receive accurate heart rate measure, especially when training for a marathon or if your doctor has set heart rate limits due to coronary artery disease, heart failure, and any other heart conditions (American College of Cardiology, 2017).

Age-related benefits and drawbacks

Wearable devices can provide seniors with personalized health data; allowing them to self-diagnose and implement behavior change interventions.  However, based on current research finding, purchasing a higher end device is essential for receiving accurate readings.  Additionally, these devices have not yet been accepted by the medical community and much research and advancement still needs to be conducted.  Perfecting these devices could allow individuals to monitor medical risk factors and provide patients with more advanced medical assists without the needs of a medical facility.

Currently, such devices provide “personalized, immediate, and goal-oriented feedback based on specific tracking data obtained via sensors and provide long lasting functionality without requiring continue recharging” (Piwek, Ellis, Andrews, and Joinson, 2016).  The current devices on the market can allow seniors to be more aware of their health and even provide motivation to exercise daily.  This is extremely beneficial to seniors because their lifestyles often become very sedentary.  The watch can remind them to exercise daily and record their exercise to show their progress.  The Apple Watch also has the capacity to hold apps that remind individuals to take their medication and at the correct dosages and times.

Another application that could save a senior’s life is available on the Apple Watch, is an advanced form of a ‘Panic’ Button.  This function often goes unnoticed; however, it would be highly beneficial for senior citizens and their friends and family that are worried about their health.  The application is called “Alert” and allows Seniors to contact a caregiver with the touch of a button (Price, 2016). This application is a convenient and accessible way for seniors to contact their loved ones when they are in need.  In addition, it fits into their daily life giving them independence while they go about their life freely and peacefully.  Additionally, this application monitors the senior’s physiological signals and will suggest them to request assistance before an incident becomes more problematic (Price, 2016).  This innovation is much easier than locating a phone, unlocking it, searching for an app, and then finally reaching a caregiver (Price, 2016).  Furthermore, many seniors do not want to wear a panic button as it is associated with a stigma, thus the application allows them to wear something that does not signal to those around them that they may have an issue (Price, 2016).  Additionally, the Apple Watch is still a beneficial device, for seniors, even without the application because it enables them to call caregivers or emergency personal more readily (Price, 2016).  Having important contacts in their favorites allows for quick and easy access which just a few taps or even via Siri (controlled via voice commands) (Price, 2016).

Discussion

Overall, the Apple Watch would be more beneficial for the needs of seniors, than the Fitbit watches.  The Apple Watch would enable seniors to be aware of their health and monitor it accordingly, thus allowing them to be independent and live on their own longer.  And this is what seniors prefer, as it enables them to continue living in their own home. 

Additionally, as wearable devices become more advanced and accepted by the medical industry, they could potentially allow seniors to monitor their health without the constant need of doctor visits.  Thus, their later years would be more enjoyable because they are healthier and more active.  This can also benefit society in terms of medical expenses. When the older population does not require as much medical attention for extended periods of time, tax dollars can be used elsewhere and senior citizens can enjoy older age.


References

American College of Cardiology. (2017, March 8). Wrist-worn heart rate monitors less accurate than standard chest strap: Accuracy varies by device, activity type, exercise activity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2017 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170308145327.htm

Kaewkannate, K., & Kim, S. (2016, May 24). A comparison of wearable fitness devices. Retrieved April 10, 2017, from https://bmcpublicheath.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-016-3059-0/

Piwek, L., Ellis, D.A., Andrews, S., Joinson, A. (2016, February 2). The Rise of Consumer Health Wearables: Promises and Barriers. Retrieved April 12, 2017, from https://dio.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001953/

Price, Emily. (2016). This app turns the apple watch into a ‘Panic’ button. Lifewire. Retrieved from: https://www.lifewire.com/turn-apple-watch-into-a-panic-button-for-seniors

 

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