searcyPerfect pairings:  Peanut butter and jelly.  Grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Smartphones and geriatric patients?

While most people probably don’t picture their older adult relatives Facetiming their doctor on their iPhone or sporting a Fitbit to the gym, this could very well be the future of preventive medicine. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 42% of adults over age 65 owned smartphones, up from 11% in 2011. With this rise in mobile technology ownership, there is new opportunity for patient engagement and management beyond the traditional face-to-face encounter. Older adults, especially those with cardiovascular disease, seem well-positioned to gain considerable benefit from mobile health (mHealth) technology. Their propensity for multimorbid disease, mobility impairment, social isolation, and transportation issues means that older adults have both elevated clinical needs and substantial barriers to traditional care strategies. In order to better understand the relative utility of mHealth technologies in older adult patients, we conducted a narrative literature review recently published in Current Geriatrics Reports.

What did we find?

  • There is a wealth of mHealth apps and wearable devices designed to aid in the monitoring of older adult patients with cardiovascular disease.
  • Adoption of mHealth technology by older adults is impeded by well-documented barriers that are physical, cognitive, and motivational in nature.
  • The physical and cognitive challenges can be partially alleviated with engineered solutions that make the mobile interface easier to use.
  • However, motivational barriers require personalized coaching and social support, which are unlikely to be overcome by engineered solutions alone.
  • Studies to date have shown mixed results when mHealth interventions are adopted. More research is needed to prove their usefulness in the home setting.

What does this mean?

In short, there are still barriers to mHealth becoming standard in the treatment of cardiovascular disease in older adults. That being said, several trials have demonstrated significant improvement in blood pressure monitoring, heart failure management, arrhythmia monitoring, medication adherence, and feelings of social isolation. While it is important to keep in mind that results have been mixed with regard to the efficacy of specific mHealth intervention strategies, it makes logical sense that using smartphones and other devices to gather more patient data points between office visits would facilitate more informed care. It is critical to ensure that these strategies 1) produce trustworthy and reliable information and 2) are cost-effective.

Where do we go from here?

Moving forward, it is essential that mHealth developers incorporate the specific engineering solutions to aging-related problems outlined both in our review article and elsewhere to facilitate use with older adults. We must also continue to investigate whether mHealth interventions can be an effective and appropriate supplement to existing care paradigms in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Though it is still too early to be certain, we believe there is great potential in mHealth interventions for older adults, and we are excited to see the ways in which technology is incorporated into patient care.

By: Ryan Searcy

Ryan is a 2nd-year medical student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. Ryan was also a Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) Program scholar at NYU School of Medicine, where he participated in aging-related research and geriatrics.

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