You can see wearable technology all over the place- it seems as though, with each passing year, there are more people wearing smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearable tech. Commercials for these products take up lots of airtime on TV, too- it’s like wearable tech is impossible to escape!
Surely there must be something special about these devices, but what does scientific research say? Take a look at the benefits of wearable technology for seniors, and decide for yourself if these devices are all they’re cracked up to be!
What is Wearable Technology?
Wearable Technology, also referred to as “wearables”, refers to a segment of the tech/electronics industry that makes products you wear on your body. The most common type of wearable is the watch- even classic timepieces from 100 years ago are, technically, “wearable technology”.
From smartwatches to heart rate monitors, all wearable tech has one thing in common: it leverages technological innovations to help you live a better, safer life. Whether that’s tracking your heart rate to give you a better understanding of your cardiovascular health or counting the number of steps you take in a day, all of these devices are supposed to benefit you.
Main Types of Wearable Technology
The Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, and other devices are incredibly popular. Since their release in 2015, over 100 million Apple Watches have been sold! Smartwatches can connect to your phone via Bluetooth, and many are also wifi and cellular data-enabled. They can receive text messages, phone calls, play music, and more. The biggest benefit of a smartwatch, aside from remaining connected to the world, is their built-in fitness features.
Smartwatches will track your heart rate, steps, calories, and more- giving you access to tons of valuable data about your health. If you’re someone who enjoys exercising or is trying to be more health-conscious as you age, these devices can be a huge help.
These watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 35, are generally less expensive and more focused than “smartwatches”. They look the same on the outside, but have a more specific purpose. GPS watches are designed to help people who enjoy running, walking, hiking, and cycling track their activities and learn how to improve their fitness on their own terms.
The main difference between a smartwatch and a GPS fitness watch is that fitness watches don’t typically let you text/communicate with others; they’re for tracking exercise and fitness, not staying connected.
Heart Rate/Pulse Monitors
These devices do exactly what it sounds like they do: monitor your pulse. If you’re thinking about the finger pulse monitors you’d use in a hospital/medical setting, you might have the wrong idea. Those products are available for home use, but they’re not quite as popular or helpful as chest-strap heart rate monitors.
Heart rate monitors such as the Garmin HRM Pro are worn around the chest and provide extremely accurate heart rate data. If you’re keeping to an active lifestyle, trying to get back in shape, or are exercising to help treat a cardiovascular disease, these monitors are very helpful. They give you crucial data to help gauge your fitness, your progress, and to avoid overworking yourself.
We’ve all seen commercials for the LifeAlert device: “Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” Though many people consider those commercials annoying and patronizing, the benefit of a medical alert device is clear. If you have a medical emergency or a fall, having something around your neck or in your pocket that can dial 911 can literally save your life.
Devices such as the On The Go Medical Guardian may not be the most attractive or flashiest pieces of technology, but their value is indisputable when you need them.
Benefits of Wearable Technology for Seniors
Early Detection of Medical Issues
A study conducted by Current Geriatrics Reports in 2015 found that wearable technology can be a valuable asset for seniors and caregivers alike. It is particularly useful for fall prevention/response to falls and diabetic ulcer prevention.
Wearable technology can give caregivers the data needed to recognize the “red flags” in a patient’s vitals and give them treatment faster- sometimes even before the treatment is urgently needed.
Research from The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging found that wearable technology was helpful for caretakers of dementia patients, allowing them to accurately make decisions about their nutrition and energy intake.
Even if you or a loved one are not suffering from dementia, this is an important benefit. Lack of proper nutrition for seniors has many negative side effects, including fatigue and a weakened immune system. You can use a fitness tracker or smartwatch to track how many calories you are burning, to determine how much energy you need to consume. If you maintain an active lifestyle, you might be surprised to find out that you aren’t eating enough to replace the calories you burn!
Because wearable tech gives caretakers and other medical professionals the ability to monitor patients from afar, many seniors can experience increased freedom and independence. Your vital signs and symptoms can be kept track of, and accidents can be reported even if nobody sees them. This allows many seniors to live more independently, for as long as possible.
Diagnosing Illness/Medical Issues
Wearable tech that gathers health data can be used by doctors and nurses to more quickly and accurately diagnose different symptoms in their patience. When you enter a hospital, one of the first things that happens is “triage”, where your vital signs and symptoms are given a quick evaluation, helping doctors establish a sense of what is going wrong. Sharing data from a wearable device (pulse, blood pressure, etc) gives your doctors a “peek into the past”, making their evaluations more accurate.
You can also use this data to self-evaluate, detecting potential red flags before a medical emergency occurs. For example, if you notice that your blood pressure is spiking, you may be able to contact a doctor or head to the hospital before you have a life-threatening hypertensive emergency, instead of after.
Fitness and Condition Management
In separate studies, it was found that wearable technology gives greater control to patients with both osteoarthritis and COPD, respectively. These devices allow seniors to work with their doctors and nurses to establish benchmarks and goals for their progress in rehabilitation. This means that patients can feel more responsible for their recovery and take charge when not in the doctor’s office, facilitating faster and more complete recovery!
Another study with COPD patients, done by the National Institutes of Health, found that the presence of a fitness tracker helped patients stay committed and motivated with their exercise. This research suggests that being able to see how many steps you’ve taken or how far you have walked/jogged/cycled is a strong motivating factor, making your progress feel real and tangible.
Finally, similar research was conducted with survivors of breast cancer. Regular exercise and active lifestyles are very good for survivors, but many breast cancer survivors do not live sufficiently active lifestyles. Using fitness trackers and other wearables promotes a healthier lifestyle, encouraging and motivating breast cancer survivors to get fit and stay committed to a fitness routine.
If you are trying to get back in shape but are lacking motivation or direction, a wearable fitness device may be exactly what you need. You can assess your fitness, plan out your goals, and use the trackers to keep yourself accountable and motivated. Completing a fitness goal is very rewarding, and wearable devices make these rewards easy to realize.
Risks of Wearable Technology for Seniors
The main risk of devices like these is an over-reliance on technology. For example, if you rely on an alerting device to help you get help in case of emergencies, you may have a sense of false confidence and be less cautious than you would otherwise. More than that, if your device loses its signal or battery, you can be left in a dangerous situation without help.
Fitness trackers and smartwatches have their drawbacks, too. The accuracy of various health stats on these devices isn’t always 100%. In fact, tests performed on these watches show that heart rate and other data can’t be taken as fact unless confirmed by a more precise chest strap monitor. Apple Watches, for instance, can alert you to a case of atrial fibrillation, but it’s only accurate ⅓ of the time.
What does this mean for you? Simply this: while you should take advantage of all the benefits and data that wearables provide, you shouldn’t rely on them to make all your health-related decisions. These devices are best used to help guide your choices and promote healthier, safer lifestyles, not to make decisions for you.
Wearable tech devices are more than just a stylish trend- they help you stay connected, healthy, and safe. Which benefit of these devices stood out to you the most? Are you excited to see how the applications of wearable tech develops in the future? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!