Most interventions we see from nurses at senior living communities involve the resident doing some form of physical activity. But how do we know if they’re doing it or how effective it is? Tracking activity provides accountability and insights about how somebody is responding.

Low-Tech Tracking

There are numerous low tech options for engaging and monitoring activities for residents in senior living communities.  A particularly effective approach is to form Walking Groups and track an individual’s activity with an inexpensive Pedometer. This approach accomplishes a number of benefits proven to help people keep participating.

  • Accountability – people of any age are more likely to exercise consistently with others. Call it peer pressure if you want, but it works.
  • Motivation – people like to see that they’re making progress.  By exercising consistently and seeing improvement – whether it’s distance, number of steps or speed – most are challenged to try and keep improving.
  • Insights – keeping track of whatever metrics are chosen allows a clinical team to assess how an individual is doing with their plan, and adjust as needed.

High-Tech Tracking

A recent German study (Impact of Activity Tracker Usage in Combination with a Physical Activity Intervention on Physical and Cognitive Parameters in Healthy Adults Aged 60+: A Randomized Controlled Trial, March 2022) provides evidence that incorporating an activity tracker for seniors can be effective.

In the study they compared participants using manual tracking (print or web-based) of their activity vs. using an activity tracker. The outcomes they measured included:

  • grip strength
  • endurance (two-minute step test)
  • gait speed (four-meter walk test)
  • cognition (Simon task; balanced integration score, reaction time and accuracy)
  • physical self-concept (Physical Self-Description Questionnaire (PSDQ)

The study’s authors say the results suggest that a combination of web-based and activity tracker PA interventions may improve physical function (strength, endurance, gait speed) and physical self-concept and may partially improve cognitive function.

But will seniors use activity trackers?  An Australian study (Older adults’ experiences of using a wearable activity tracker with health professional feedback over a 12-month randomized controlled trial) indicates they will. The study required participants to wear the activity tracker for a 12-month period.  At the end of the study, the median number of days the activity tracker was worn by the participants was 88%. This is impressive considering the authors compared the results to other studies with younger populations which indicated wear-time as low as 15%.

However, it seems there is a fine line between the activity tracker providing motivation or, in some cases, discouragement. As a result, the authors recommend activity tracker feedback provided to older adults should be individualized “to accommodate changes in an individual’s health status or functional capacity.”  Another important factor the study indicated “…was the role health professionals play in providing ongoing support.” They recommend “… that combining technology with health professional support may improve the user experience and level of engagement of participants.”

I think the potential of using activity trackers is very exciting. If they provide accountability and motivation to older adults and monitoring data to health professionals, the chances of better outcomes should increase dramatically.  And there are many other technologies either being used or tested that could offer a completely new range of alternatives to clinical interventions for seniors. I’ll be highlighting more of these in the coming months.