Fitness tracker on woman's arm

You’ve seen those skinny bands people use to track their fitness – they have names like Jawbone, Misfit and Fitbit; they count steps, monitor your sleep and track your pulse.  In fact, some 70 million of them have been sold.

A study has found that these products aren’t just desired by 20-somethings who run 5Ks on the weekend; people over age 50 want to use these trackers, too. The problem is that the fitness trackers currently available simply don’t have what older consumers need.

Project Catalyst – The Power of We, is an initiative launched by AARP with support from MedStar Health, Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare and in partnership with the Georgia Tech Research Institute. The problem, the group believes, is that older consumers aren’t considered early in the design process and, as a result, their needs are often unmet in the final product. So, the initiative was launched to encourage developers to design tech geared toward older adults’ wellness needs, too.

The group conducted a study on use of wearable sleep and activity trackers by people aged 50-plus.  Ninety-two consumers over the age of 50 were given one of seven popular tracking devices to use at home for six weeks. The study found that, while the study participants were generally positive about the devices’ benefits, “the devices’ design and utility are lacking in features that would encourage long-term use or adoption.”

In a press release, Dr. Brad Fain, a director of Georgia Tech’s HomeLab and principal research scientist at GTRI, said: “Despite what some people may think, the study showed that consumers in the 50-plus age group enjoy interacting with technology when it provides them with constructive and usable feedback on their goals.

“They are motivated to use new products that help them achieve good health and avoid illness – important findings as we seek to improve technology and make life easier for this underserved population.”

According to AARP, at the end of the six-week trial:

  • 71 percent of participants reported increased awareness of activity, sleep or eating habits;
  • 45 percent reported increased motivation;
  • 46 percent said they changed their behavior; and
  • 67 percent of participants reported the activity and sleep tracker to be beneficial or of value.

However, many of the consumers saw a need for improvement in everything from better packaging to easier-to- understand instructions. People with arthritis might have had problems opening the packaging and retrieving the device and the instructions may have been too technical for non-technical consumers – 89% of the study subjects said they had difficulty with device set-up. Reported AARP, “to be valued as useful, activity and sleep trackers must first be effective and easy to use.”

To make the trackers more attractive to the 50-plus demographic, trackers should actually be targeted to the age group, which has different needs than their younger counterparts. Some of the suggestions made by study participants:

  • Provide detailed, easy-to-understand instructions;
  • Provide an explanation of how activity and sleep trackers collect data;
  • Ensure robust syncing capabilities;
  • Ensure comfort while wearing the tracker;
  • Enable timely notifications targeted to 50-plus consumers;
  • Provide a display for instant information access;
  • Incorporate additional sensors related to health-specific conditions.

In its report, the group explained why refining this type of technology to older people is important: Approximately one of every three Americans is over 50 — and their longevity is continually increasing. They are also more concerned with quality of life than their predecessors – they seek out new ways to be healthier and more productive as the age.

Of course, of importance to manufacturers is that, as AARP noted, the 50-plus demographic is influential in terms of economics. The group is comprised of over 100 million people “responsible for at least $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity – a figure that is expected to reach well over $13.5 trillion in real terms by 2032, according to Oxford Economics.”

Do you use a fitness tracker? If not, would you want to? Let us know in the comments below!

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