Apple’s new health features bring new focus to elder care technology

Walking stability and data sharing may be useful for older adults

Apple’s new health features will be available to anyone with an iPhone. But two tools announced at WWDC 2021, sustainability and the ability to share health data with family members, could be especially useful for older adults.

Those who work with older adults are excited that a company like Apple is interested in technology that can be used for this group. Experts have spent years frustrated that companies don’t design products to meet the needs of that demographic. There have been some attempts to introduce new tools, but none have received much attention, says Richard Schulz, a social psychologist who studies aging at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I think it’s because the big boys — companies like Apple — never got into it,” Schultz says. The new features are a sign that the tide is starting to turn. “It’s a big deal for Apple to be involved.”

fear of falling

The first feature, the Walking Stability Indicator, targets a major issue for older adults: falls. there are waterfalls main reason Accidents, injury and death cases for seniors in America, and they are responsible for billions in health care costs each year. Researchers have been studying falls — and trying to figure out ways to prevent them — for decades, says Jacob Sosnoff, who studies mobility in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“We can do a really good job in the lab measuring walking impairment and making predictions and recommendations, but we’re not very good in the real world,” Sosnoff says.

Apple’s new Walking Stability feature aims to track people as they move through their daily lives. It uses metrics such as walking speed, step length, and where both feet are in contact with the ground to monitor the user’s stability. It can only be measured on the iPhone, not the Apple Watch, because some metrics should be calculated as close to the hip as possible, Apple says—so works best in a pocket or bag.

The Apple Watch already has a fall detection feature that can prompt users to call emergency services or automatically call if the user is stationary for about a minute. The new iPhone capability focuses on prediction rather than response: it can tell people if they’re speeding and issue alerts if they think they’re at risk of a fall. Apple says that System a. is based on data collected during clinical studies In which more than 100,000 participants of all ages were involved.

Sosnoff says there are no major commercial products that track the quality of people’s movement. Until now, most movement trackers have focused on how much people moved. “So there’s a lot of excitement about this,” he says. “It’s important to make people aware of their risk of falls.”

But there is also a downside to telling people they can fall – the fear of falling is actually associated with experiencing a fall. If the alerts escalate that fear, people may limit their physical activity or even stop leaving the house, says Clara Berridge, a professor at the University of Washington who studies health care technology in aging populations. “That will likely contribute to their actual risk of falling, as they are reducing their strength and activity,” she says.

It’s a good balance, Sosnoff says. “We want people to be aware of the risks but not so worried that they don’t do anything.”

Sosnoff says he’s curious to see if the stability feature of walking can actually reduce falls in real-world scenarios. A challenge for the device may be monitoring people who have impaired walking – like people who are lame, for example. They say that algorithms that track moves often don’t work as well in those situations. If the Apple feature has that problem, it could flag people with different tread patterns that may not actually be at risk of falling.

The Apple feature may not be able to help everyone at risk of falls. Walking patterns are one of many reasons people fall: poor vision with age can cause people to travel, certain medications can impair balance, and things around the house (such as loose rugs) are dangerous. May be. The Apple Walking Stability feature is designed to suggest that people who are prone to falls perform various stability exercises, which may be useful in some cases. But for some people, balance may not be the main problem. “Motivation to exercise isn’t the only solution,” says Berridge.

It is also necessary that they carry their phone around regularly to get information about the user’s movement. Sosnoff says he’s not sure that older adults actually do this. Many may use their phones in different ways than younger people. “I know many older adults who leave their phone on the counter as if it’s a traditional phone,” he says.

However, there are advantages to working when a player like Apple falls. “They’re going to have a significant amount of data to help them see what’s going on,” Sosnoff says. If the iPhone could really prevent falls, that would be a huge boon. “If people fall and get hurt we put them back together again, but we don’t really do much to prevent a fall. It would be exciting if we could.”

data sharing

Apple will now allow users to share their health data with other people. This feature can be a major convenience for caregivers of family members and older adults who want or need to keep track of one’s health metrics. Currently, they may have to collect information from several different sources – a heart rate app, a blood pressure monitor system. The Apple Sharing feature can provide direct access to them all in one place.

“I could see that this is extremely appealing to adult children,” Berridge says.

It also raises privacy concerns for older adults. Apple features are entirely controlled by the user, who has to decide in the app what information they want to share and with whom. In reality, however, older people who are not comfortable with technology may not be able to take charge of that decision on their own.

“It’s very common that an older child buys a phone for an older adult, and sets the settings, and takes the phone out of their hand and says, ‘Let me fix it for you,'” Berridge says. . “That older adult is going to lose the ability to keep this information from a family member.”

Some people may be too comfortable opening up their health app to family members, but there’s still a power dynamic involved. Older adults prefer surveillance technology less than their adult children, and say they want to maintain their privacy without feeling watched. But their adult children believe they can convince parents to use monitoring technology even if they say they are uncomfortable with it, Berridge’s research says. has been found. “They are not necessarily inclined to engage them in the conversation, they are simply very confident that their priorities will rule at the end of the day,” she says.

On the other hand, adult children using this feature may find themselves inundated with information about their older parents that they aren’t sure how to interpret, says social psychologist Schulz. “Decisions have to be made about how to parse and translate that information for the person who is gaining access,” he says.

In practice, Berridge isn’t sure how useful it would be for a family member to see all of the Health app’s data. “People might say, OK, what do I do with this information? At what point is it worthwhile, when do I call the doctor, etc. It could also be an alert overload situation.” she says.

Despite those concerns, there is growing interest in ways to keep older adults healthy at home. The COVID-19 pandemic showed that senior care facilities can be dangerous, and people generally don’t want to live in them, Berridge says. Apple’s new features highlight the movement in that direction. “Moving monitoring out of facilities and into the home is going to be a major trend,” she says.

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