AARP teams with Georgia Tech’s HomeLab, Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare to test wearables with consumers 50+
Wearable monitoring devices such as Fitbit Charge HR or Jawbone UP24 appeal to much of the 20-to-50-year-old group for measuring personal fitness goals, but can they also encourage the growing 50+ population to become more health-conscious by routinely tracking their physical activity and sleep?
That’s the hefty goal of a new program that hopes to give developers of popular and emerging wearable technologies new insights into how American baby boomers—now 100 million strong—can and will use mobile technology to meet their health needs.
Taking on this initiative is AARP, the nonprofit, non-partisan membership organization for people ages 50+, the Georgia Tech Research Institute and its HomeLab, which helps businesses and nonprofits evaluate baby boomers’ perceptions, use and acceptance of home-health and wellness technologies. Together they have created Project Catalyst, the latest in a series of efforts led by AARP to raise awareness of the economic power of consumers ages 50+ and conduct research about their wants and needs regarding innovative health products.
Project Catalyst engages consumers in the innovation process to provide feedback on product functionality and design—from the moment they open the sleep and fitness tracker packages through how they incorporate using the devices in their daily lives, or don’t.
“Our goal is to bring the voice of the consumer into the center of the conversation about innovation to improve the life for people over the age of 50,” said Jeff Makowka, director of thought leadership at AARP. “We also saw no other organization that was doing studies focused on design and product issues for older Americans that could provide insights on using the devices.”
Some of those issues, Makowka said, are as basic as difficulty opening the external packaging, finding the product’s instructions and understanding that the data automatically are transmitted to a dashboard in a doctor’s office.
“As the technology improves, the price points will come down and people will start to manage their chronic conditions and modify their behaviors,” he said. “Prices for many of these activity and sleep trackers are rather high—between $99 and $159—and need to come down for wider acceptance, especially for people on fixed incomes.”
The initial Project Catalyst study, which began late last year, involved 80 consumers age 50+ in Georgia testing six different sleep and activity tracking devices: Withings Pulse, Misfit Flash, Lumo Lift, Spire, Fitbit Charge and Jawbone UP24. Typically, each tester worked with one device over a six-week period at home following a two-hour introduction from Georgia Tech staff on how to use them.
All of the data—steps of activity each day and sleep measurements—automatically are sent to computers at HomeLab. As part of the user experience, each tester after using the device at home is interviewed about the usability features they liked and disliked. The collective data from all of the participants will be part of a final report issued in June that will focus on how participants used each specific device, any difficulties, their overall user involvement and if there were barriers that could be altered or improved. There will be no ranking of the devices, said Brad Fain, Ph.D., a principal research scientist at Georgia Tech and director of HomeLab, and the final report will be given to all six device manufacturers.
“Well-designed technology can be used by young and old alike, but several years ago we found that older Americans needed to see the true value before wearing devices on their wrists, in their pockets, on belts or around their necks,” said Fain. “In some cases, older consumers are looking for insights into their health by measuring their activity and sleep tracking. We also found that in general, the marketing and advertising messages for wearable devices often are geared to younger adults and not to the 50+ baby boomer generation.”
For UnitedHealthcare, the Project Catalyst study of wearable technology for older Americans, many of them Medicare beneficiaries, is simply a sign of the times.
“We look forward to seeing the results of the study,” said Jeff Shoemate, vice president, innovation and business development for UnitedHealthcare’s Medicare business, “and, more importantly, the opportunities it uncovers for future healthcare innovations.”
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