Investigating the role of wearable activity-tracking technologies in the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over

Minocha, Shailey; Banks, Duncan; Holland, Caroline; McNulty, Catherine and Tudor, Ana-Despina (2017). Investigating the role of wearable activity-tracking technologies in the well-being and quality of life of people aged 55 and over. Report submitted to Sir Halley Stewart Trust, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.


In this Sir Halley Stewart Trust-funded project (May 2016 - July 2017) and in collaboration with Age UK Milton Keynes (MK) and Carers MK, our aim was to investigate whether and how wearable activity-tracking technologies can acceptably contribute towards self-monitoring of activity and health by people aged over 55. Example technologies include trackers from Fitbit, Garmin and Samsung, and smart watches. Typically, these devices record steps walked, sleep patterns, calories expended and heart rate.

Physical activity helps preserve mobility and motor skills as we age. An author of a study reported in 2015 said: “Physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage”. While walking has been shown to lower the risk of many chronic diseases in older people, its role in falls prevention remains unclear; however, walking has been considered as a useful adjunct to increasing their physical activity. Walking has been shown to improve cognitive performance and reduce cognitive decline among older people. Our previous research has shown that walking with others can help reduce social isolation and loneliness among people aged 55 and over.

Given the UK’s ageing profile and as part of the agendas of Active and Healthy Ageing and digital NHS, there is an increasing focus on maintaining health in later life and encouraging physical activity to preserve mobility and motor skills, and self-monitoring of health and medical conditions. In a 2015 survey by Trustmarque and YouGov, 81 per cent of respondents said they would like wearable devices to be used in healthcare to monitor vulnerable people or patients at home; helping patients follow diet and exercise regimes or courses of medicine: “self-monitoring devices … could help the NHS save at least 60 per cent on the average cost per patient”6. Monitoring during and after treatment could address the concerns about delayed hospital discharge.

Although we have focussed on activity monitors in this project, our underlying objective is to determine the service design requirements for digital health wearables for people aged over 55 years, carers, and people being cared for. This will enable us to inform the service design of these devices when they are employed in self-monitoring and self-management of health for managing some specific medical conditions, or during recuperation.

In this report, we present preliminary results from our empirical investigations.

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