David Smith headshot
David Smith

The importance of preventive care increases significantly with age, especially when it comes to conditions as serious and common as heart disease.

Far too many other older adults have succumbed to cardiovascular illnesses or related medical emergencies that could have been prevented. For this reason, healthcare providers constantly are pursuing new ways to inhibit the development of heart disease and identify early signs of cardiac events.

One potential solution is wearable technology, which has the ability not only to save lives and improve the treatment of heart disease but also to empower senior living residents and other older adults to achieve dramatically healthier lifestyles.

What do wearables do?

Wearable devices — namely smart watches — are electronic devices worn on the body that monitor and track a user’s health and physical activity in real time. Examples of tracked metrics include heart rate, steps taken, oxygen saturation, blood pressure and sleep duration. In the event of a medical emergency, smart watches also allow the user to send medical and location information to first responders with the simple touch of a button.

In addition to those basic features, the newest and most advanced smart watches can be programmed to automatically deliver data directly to a physician’s electronic health records system. This capability gives doctors a far more in-depth view into a patient’s day-to-day health.

Wearables also can give timely reminders to take daily medications or engage in other health-related activities, such as staying hydrated or taking a walk.

Wearables and cardiovascular disease

The data gathered by smart watches typically is comprehensive and objective, making it extremely valuable to physicians. These data also are collected 24 hours a day, producing metrics that otherwise would be unattainable. The physician is able to see the exact date and time when any cardiac abnormalities occurred.

Without wearables, older adults might have to visit a doctor’s office and undergo testing to get the same aforementioned metrics. But even then, the data obtained by the physician are minimal and nondescript in comparison with that from a smart watch.

Wearables also help with cardiac medication compliance. With the myriad of medications and supplements older adults often have to take throughout the day, it’s no surprise that confusion can occur. Smart watches can help senior living residents and other older adults create customizable schedules that deliver appropriate reminders, preventing them from taking the wrong pill at the wrong time.

With the abundant data that wearables provide, physicians can deliver more personalized care and create treatment plans to suit each patient’s individual needs. Use of wearables also can make it easier to spot early signs of medical issues or cardiac conditions before they have the chance to maturate, and to instead administer preventive measures.

Taking control

Another major benefit of smart watch technology is the ability to increase users’ awareness of their own health and wellness. The accessibility of health and fitness metrics, such as step count, encourages users to set their own goals and act on them. When users are able to see that a certain metric has changed, they can better understand the effect that their current life choices have on their health. This information can give older adults incentive and motivation to engage in more healthful, active lifestyles.

For example, with apps such as Cardiogram, users with a chronic cardiovascular disease can see how their daily activities (such as diet and exercise) are affecting their ability to combat or manage their condition. This heightened awareness ultimately gives users more autonomy over their futures. With the data accessed through smart watches, older adults can stop viewing their chronic health conditions as unsolvable mysteries. Rather, they can start connecting important dots between their lifestyle and consequential health outcomes and then make informed decisions from a more empowered place.

Quality of life

Along with physical health, wearables can result in significant improvements in mental health. Unfortunately, it’s very common for older adults to have various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and irritability. Those issues often stem from the loss of independence that comes with old age.

Wearables however, can help older adults regain their independence by giving them personalized action steps for maintaining and improving their health and well-being. Moreover, the ability to observe improvements in health metrics can gives older adults a sense of hope, making the future appear less uncertain, improving mental health.

Lastly, many older adults see their mental health deteriorate when they feel forced out of their homes and into senior living communities or nursing homes. A 2021 study found that 90% of Americans aged 50 or more years would prefer to “age in place” rather than in assisted living facilities. Seniors who are healthier and more independent are more likely to age in place, enabling them to maintain a higher quality life in their remaining years.

Further, certain apps that connect to smart watches also have remote monitoring capabilities. This capability allows loved ones to keep an eye on the user’s health, even from afar, creating more possibilities for longer-lasting independence.

More data = more control

Wearables are yet another testament to how extensive data can make people, systems and companies more proactive. The more information you have at your disposal, the more capable you are to take proper action and find real solutions to any given problem.

With smart watches, senior living residents and other older adults can actively focus on making improvements rather than feeling as though they’re at the mercy of their health conditions. As those devices continue to become more commonplace, we’re likely to witness a decrease in the negative stereotypes associated with old age as older adults are able to enjoy increasingly healthier and more fulfilling lives.

David Smith is president and CRO at ilumivu, a company that provides healthcare decision support applications using the psychology of behavior change combined with real-time data from smartphones and wearables.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.