A Meaningful Need Arises For Elderly-Based Activity Trackers
June 12, 2014

A Meaningful Need Arises For Elderly-Based Activity Trackers

Alan McStravick for www.redorbit.com - Your Universe online

Just a few years ago, as cell phones became more broadly accepted and used, it became clear there was an entire demographic that was being left behind by the mobile trend. Billing itself as the senior cell phone, the Jitterbug was a device with larger buttons and display screen readout without all of the pesky and confusing applications that simply were unnecessary for the older set. For its wont to satisfy the senior demographic, it was clear that the Jitterbug and products like it were clearly an afterthought to the burgeoning market.

The emerging trend of wearable technology seems to be revisiting the sins of the past as, according to a new Georgia Tech study, activity-monitoring applications, Websites and wearable devices, increasing in popularity amongst the generations comprised of Millenials, Generation X and those in between, seem to be leaving the elderly out of their demographic targeting.

As the Baby Boomer generation marches into retirement, they are facing health issues such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension that could easily be addressed by activity-monitoring technologies. In fact, it is believed the older generation would benefit greatly from the attention of these tech designers, seeing an increase in their cognitive function thanks to assistance with maintaining a proper diet and exercise. As the market develops, it has become apparent that designers rarely consider those over 65 to be a viable user group. Part of this is borne from research based on human factors and ergonomics that show several usability challenges for this population.

“Many older adults have chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension that require them to self-manage their health,” said Georgia Tech engineering psychology graduate student Kimberly Preusse, coauthor of ‘Activity Monitoring Technologies and Older Adult Users: Heuristic Analysis and Usability Assessment.’ “Research has shown that they want to track their diet and exercise, but most don’t use activity-monitoring technologies to do so.”

In an attempt to further explain that position, Preusse, along with Tracy Mitzner, Cara Fausset and Wendy Rogers, designed a study meant to assess the usability of two popular Web-based and wearable activity trackers. Their research was presented at this year's 2014 International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care.

For the study, older adult participants were expected to track their diet and exercise over a period of two weeks. During that time, they were asked to report on their perceptions of the usability of the technologies meant to help them with this task. A separate analysis was performed by the authors to possibly uncover design flaws that could be perceived by users of any age group.

From the senior citizen participants, the researchers learned of several issues that made the use of these technologies problematic. The first issue noted was the low color contrast between the icons on the devices and the background screens. Second, most of these devices relied on using small fonts to fit the unobtrusive size of the device. And lastly, navigation bars within Websites were produced inconsistently, introducing confusion and frustration to the participants.

Outside of the design of the devices, the elderly participants doubted the overall accuracy of device measurements like step counts and sleep patterns. Another issue that arose centered on the fact that many participants simply failed to remember to track and log their activity information and/or even to use the device. The research team believes an easy fix for this issue would be to create and implement more prominent reminder options into the technology.

“Activity-monitoring technologies can make tracking diet and exercise easier because they gather some data automatically and display trends over time,” said Preusse. “Companies should market their products directly to older adult users so that they understand how the technology can be beneficial in managing their health.”

Designers and marketers of these technologies obviously see the financial benefit of marketing to the younger, health-conscious demographic that wants their wristband or sensored tennis shoe to transmit data to their Facebook page about the run they just had. While that technology is supremely interesting, some attention should be paid to the older among us whom this technology could benefit in a far more impactful way.

GET UP AND GET MOVING! - Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black