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Adoption of wearables by older adults -- what are the barriers?

For wearables to be useful to older adults, some barriers need to be overcome.  As has been the case with other technology innovations that can provide great benefit to seniors, the value of wearables may be great for older adults -- especially when personalized to the characteristics and needs of an individual. However, the implementation and/or data integration may be lacking. And there may be significant concerns about being tracked or where the data resides. Reviewing the impediments to this useful category actually being adopted -- these may include:

Usability of the data. What stands between the data from a wearable and its use by providers ? The Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is one of the big barriers – to date, the industry has not built the capability to capture data that can be sent their way. And physicians, as a recent Forrester report noted, may not be interested in acquiring that data (or worrisome alerts or signals from it) until systems can accommodate it and benefits have been proven. The question about usability applies to hearables and their likely dependency on smartphones, virtual reality technology and its dependency on headsets and training, or tracking wearables that depend on configuration and adjustment for each person.

Skepticism and concerns about health-related wearables. It's not just physicians – the older adult population may be cautious. Consider the unanswered questions about wearables, including the need for calibration with other devices, the doubts expressed by the medical community, and the confusion about privacy defaults, it is not surprising that while vendors and experts are excited about the possibilities, there is a lack of awareness among older consumers. And if aware, there may be a lack of enthusiasm. As with the "I’m Old" stigma about PERS devices, there may also be a stigma associated with visible devices tracking health conditions.

Accuracy of measurements. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is one example of a wearable combined with other technologies to remotely monitor patients with chronic (or post-discharge) conditions. While telehealth took off during the pandemic, for example, it has returned to being one tool in the toolkit for physicians, depending on the willingness of the patient and difficulty of getting to in-person appointments. Wearables will similarly be incorporated into processes with some caution -- and as part of an overall data strategy.

Actionability. Early on in EHR evolution, these systems produced a plethora of alerts, and practitioners ignored them, complaining of alert fatigue. So it is no surprise today if they resist data integration from wearables that could generate vastly more data. But appropriately personalized consumer wearables can be different. Looking down at a wrist-worn device that says ‘Stand!’ may prompt movement from a chair. Given the opportunity to respond to a nudge, we may or may not act, but at least we receive a visible suggestion is made that enables action.

Willingness and ability to use. As devices evolve into lighter, highly accurate and simpler form factors, will older adults, including the oldest, wear them? They just might, armed with information and encouragement from peers, families, physical therapists or caregivers. With the emergence of rings, bands, patches, and inexpensive smartwatches like the $20 Wyze band announced in December, unobtrusive wearable devices may become a symbol of high quality self or professional care.

Privacy concerns. As with the advent of always-listening smart speakers, all ages should be concerned about what is done with the data from wearables – who gets it, how is it monetized, and what steps can be taken to rein in https://www.ageinplacetech.com/page/future-wearables-and-older-adults-2021tech company instincts to add or deploy features without informing users. Read the YouTube guidance about their policy, scrolling down to changing terms of service to see how little access or leverage an older adult has who is just watching a video perhaps sent by a home care aide, and how there is even less leverage for that home care provider.

[More on this topic is included in the report, The Future of Wearables and Older Adults 2021]