Getting in shape, monitoring health in real time and accessing emergency assistance now can be only a click away for seniors. There is a wide range of personal technology available that can help your clients stay healthy for the 20-plus years they will live beyond the standard retirement age of 65.
There are three general categories of personal health technology: gadgets, apps and websites. Let’s look at some of the most popular in each category.
The most popular digital health gadget is the smartwatch. The market leaders are the Fitbit from Fitbit Inc. and the Apple Watch from Apple Inc. (both companies are based in California). While both products serve as watches, they also offer several health- and fitness-related features, including the ability to monitor the user’s heart rate, heart rhythm and blood pressure, and track physical activity such as daily steps taken, calories burned and hours slept.
Tracking this information over days, months and years helps users monitor their health. These devices also provide notifications when they detect a potential problem, such as high blood pressure, which can portend a heart attack or stroke.
The Apple Watch, which costs between $300 and $1,880, is designed to seamlessly interface with other Apple products, such as iPhones, iPads and Mac computers, which enable reporting in larger screen formats and offer other features, such as charts and spreadsheets.
A Fitbit device, which costs between $80 and $290, also can interface with both Apple and Android devices. Your client’s choice of smartwatch will depend, for the most part, on their preferred computing platform and price.
Another popular gadget is the wearable medical alert device. There are many brands, features and prices from which to choose. One of the most popular is the Philips Lifeline, from Netherlands-based Koninklijke Philips NV, which is designed to detect when the user falls. Its popularity is due in part to the fact that approximately 1.4 million Canadians over age 65 fall each year, and more than 30% of these falls result in hip fractures.
The Lifeline, with prices beginning at a monthly fee of $36, automatically detects when and where a person falls and connects that person to a call- centre representative who will speak to the patient while the user waits for a first responder to arrive.
Many medical alert service providers feature options for conditions such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes. These services range in price from $20 to $60 per month. The Alarm Quotes website (3homeprotectionquotes.com/medical-alerts-seniors-canada/) helps seniors find the best monitoring system to fit their specific health needs and budget.
“Wearable technology goes where I go,” says Allan Smofsky, workplace health strategist and managing director, Smofsky Strategic Planning in Toronto. “Having immediate access to my data is a big motivator to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
The Wellness App from the Fountain of Health website (fountainofhealth.ca) is a good conversation starter. The app uses a questionnaire to help potential users identify the most critical aspect of their health to address first, then directs them to set a reasonable improvement goal. The Fountain of Health initiative is a non-profit national association of health professionals founded at Halifax-based Dalhousie University’s department of psychiatry.
The most common mobile health apps are those built into iPhone and Android smartphone platforms. The iPhone Health app offers basic step counts and walking and running distances using an iPhone’s internal GPS system. The app can link directly with an Apple Watch and almost 40 other monitoring devices. Android-based smartphone health apps are similar.
Both the iPhone and Android health apps also enable users to manually enter health data. For example, if you weigh yourself each day, you can enter that information into your health app — which then tracks your weight over various periods.
Health apps enable users to analyze their personal data and get results in easy-to-read graphs, charts and spreadsheets. The apps can detect changes in key health indicators, such as weight increases and rising blood pressure.
In some cases, the apps will send notifications so the user can take action, such as reducing daily calorie intake or booking an appointment to see the doctor. Early detection of a health issue may mean the difference between changing a prescription and suffering a heart attack.
You can suggest clients bookmark the “medical services by phone” page on Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada’s website (heartandstroke.ca). Seniors and the disabled can speak privately with registered nurses and potentially other health professionals by phone or webcam, free of charge.
Hospitals and universities also provide extensive online health information that’s easy for seniors to access. For example, McMaster University in Hamilton has the Optimal Aging Portal, which provides useful information on topics such as how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, cognitive health and how to access health-care services.
Being aware of mobile health technology will aid you in forecasting your clients’ future health care costs and show them that you care about your clients’ well-being.