7 ways digital health tools can help older adults stay healthy

Excerpt: Digital health tools can help Canadian seniors to enjoy good physical and mental health as a complement to in-person medical care. Virtual health visits, apps for blood pressure monitoring, text message medication reminders and digital support for physical therapy can be useful in preventing and managing chronic conditions. Video calls and virtual mental health services can also provide vital support for the social and emotional well-being of seniors.

Digital Health Week* is held from November 29 to December 5. Virtual health visits, mobile phone apps for health monitoring and text message medication reminders are among the many ways digital health tools and technologies are helping Canadian seniors to stay healthy and manage chronic illnesses more effectively* as a complement to in-person medical care, according to McMaster University.

A study by ICES, Ontario’s leading health and data research organization, found in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person health visits fell by 79%, while virtual health visits rose by 5,600%.* Canadians who connected with a physician virtually reported a 91% satisfaction rate,* says the Canadian Medical Association.

Here are tips on how digital health tools can help older adults to enjoy better physical and mental health:

  1. Wear a step counter to get moving. Too much time spent sitting can increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes and depression.* Studies show people who used step counters, such as a pedometers or accelerometers, reduced their sedentary time and health risks.*

  2. Use text messages to help manage medications. Up to 50% of adults with serious chronic health conditions don’t take their medications as prescribed, which can have severe health consequences.* People with chronic conditions who received text messages to remind and encourage them to take their medication were more likely to take medications as directed.*

  3. Get digital support for physical therapy. SWORD Health of Portugal has created a digital platform, being tested in Canada, which enables older adults to do physical therapy independently at home, with the virtual support of a clinical team.*

  4. Track your blood pressure. Apps such as Qardio, Bloor Pressure Tracker and Blood Pressure Companion can help you and your healthcare provider monitor blood pressure trends and the effectiveness of lifestyle adjustments and medications.*

  5. Seek mental health support virtually. Free mental health resources, such as the national portal, Wellness Together Canada,* and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BounceBack program,* give you easy access to phone counselling and coaching, and peer support groups to help with anxiety, depression, grief and loss.

  6. Make video calls to strengthen social ties. Older adults who used video chat technology, such as Zoom, FaceTime, and What’s App, had a significantly lower risk of depression,* according to University of Waterloo. Video calls can help older adults connect regularly with family and friends, and to be virtually present for important celebrations.

  7. Support and monitoring for people living with dementia. DataDay, a Canadian-made app, provides daily support and reminders for people living with early dementia or mild cognitive impairment.* Audio, text, and visual prompts remind them to carry out tasks like preparing meals and can help families and clinicians assess remotely how the person is doing and identify emerging issues.