Wearable technology has many applications, but in recent years, some devices have been used to help increase standards of care for seniors.

Shoes equipped with GPS devices track patients and retirement home residents with cognitive impairment, Tractivity sensors ensure patients are staying mobile while in recovery in hospitals, and Hexoskin vests allow for remote monitoring of  heart rate and breathing rates. These are just some of the ways in which wearables are used to help seniors monitor their daily variables to improve diagnosis, exercise their autonomy and stay fit.   

While many of these technologies are already on the market and available for purchase, wearable tech is not yet used in a widespread health care capacity.

“Health care is a very conservative space and industry,” says Dr. Joseph Cafazzo, Lead of the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation in Toronto. “Health care doesn’t change very quickly, especially when it deals with aspects of technology that requires certain level of validation,” says Cafazzo.

It would seem there are two solitudes when it comes to wearable technology: the data the individual collects, and the data that the hospital or clinic has, says Cafazzo. Therefore, these devices will not be integrated into healthcare unless a connection is made between the individual’s data and the healthcare professional.

Establishing a connection

Once a device is connected to a healthcare facility, and a relationship is established between the healthcare professional and the use of the data, the device becomes much more practical and actionable. “When activity tracking or blood pressure monitoring is connected with your relationship with your physician or at the clinic that you are attending, then it is much more meaningful. Especially when you are doing goal setting with your doctor, or your nurse practitioner, or your dietician,” states Cafazzo.

Most clinics, care providers, doctors and nurses are becoming much more open to using wearable devices in a health care capacity. “When I first started this more than a decade ago, there was a deep level of cynicism around the use of these technologies for patient self-care. I have to say, positively, it’s improving,” says Cafazzo. “From the patient’s perspective there is a lot of eagerness, and generally if you look at patient satisfaction surveys on the use of new technologies for wearables and apps, it is quite favorable. Especially so when it’s connected to the clinic they’re part of.”

Although some patients may be eager to use wearable technology, there are numerous ethical and privacy issues related to the use of wearable tech. Wearable technology is an alien concept for many seniors. It’s difficult to use and the idea of wearing something that monitors biometric data can be a foreign concept. It is also increasingly difficult to get the consent of a senior to use a wearable device. There is reason to question whether it is ethical to give a senior GPS shoes, if they don’t know that they are wearing them, and that their every move is being monitored. The issues of ethics and privacy are closely intertwined. The arrival of wearable technology in both the consumer market and in health care represents a unique challenge to existing models of privacy in Canada. Wearable technologies yield an enormous amount of data. What is done with this data and how it is protected is just one of the many privacy concerns related to wearable technology. Privacy, security, and efficiency should all be valued equally. Users of wearable technology should not have to sacrifice their privacy in order to use a wearable device. Ethicists and privacy experts agree that privacy should be an integral component of the design and development of technologies.

But Cafazzo says there is more to senior wellness management that simply monitoring variables and collecting data. Being able to monitor these variables is simply one facet to healthcare and healthy living. There is so much more to senior wellness management than the simple metrics of health.

“To me, there’s more to well being than just the physical part of it,” says 88-year-old Hugh Judges. The Toronto man lives in Florida in the winter. He uses his Fitbit regularly. He tracks his steps and set goals for himself. “You can lead a fairly healthy life and it’s easy quite frankly living in Florida. I live outside most of the day and it’s healthy, the air is clean, there’s something going on ever day physically but socially you keep busy,” Judges says over Skype.” “We go for dinner, we play bridge, we do pool parties.”

Wearable technologies are very real. They are on the market and in hospitals, available for purchase and use.

Professor Adrian Chan touches on the reality of wearable technology in the video below.

It may take some time for wearable technologies to become fully integrated into healthcare; but for now, wearable technologies seem to be taking their place among the tools we use to keep seniors healthy.