New white paper identifies barriers of mHealth adoption and addresses the ways mHealth can empower older people to take a more proactive role in their own care.
In 2000, the number of people in the world over the age of 65 was more than 500 million, with this number expected to triple by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. The largest growth will been seen in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where health systems are often unprepared to confront the challenges of an expanding, though frequently overlooked and undervalued, elderly population.
Building on joint research released last year (Using Mobile Technology for Healthier Aging), the mHealth Alliance and Pfizer surveyed experts in mobile technology, global health and geriatric medicine to identify three key areas related to aging where mobile technology can have a significant impact:
- Prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases
- Prevention and treatment of mental disease and illness
- Support and training for caregivers of the elderly
The results of this survey led to three papers on each identified area, outlining current and potential uses of mHealth and calling to action those who can play a role in mobilizing health systems to adopt mHealth projects for healthy aging.
The first paper, “Transferring the Burden of Caregivers to Mobile Technologies”, focuses on how mHealth solutions can support family members in their roles as informal caregivers to the elderly and can provide support to formal caregivers, such as health care professionals or professional caregivers.
The white paper also identified gaps specific gaps in knowledge and practice, as well as barriers to adoption, for applying mHealth to facilitate caregiving. The six barriers identified are:
1. Low literacy and numeracy in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)
An increasing number of older people are using mobile technologies around the world; however, in certain LMIC contexts, low rates of literacy and numeracy affect how messages should be delivered to end users. Video, which provides a more personal experience than text messaging or voice calls, may be a better option for improving behavior change, compliance, and satisfaction.
2. Need to customize mHealth content
mHealth interventions, in general, need to be customized to suit the user needs, particularly taking into account language and cultural barriers. mHealth solutions must be developed with cultural sensitivity, and in areas where many languages are spoken, mHealth efforts must be available in (or designed to enable translation into) relevant languages to ensure widespread use and adoption.
3. Invasion of Privacy
Some mHealth applications allow for wireless monitoring of older adults.
Consequently, developers must create mobile solutions that give users control over their own privacy. If privacy concerns are not addressed, this can hinder the rate of technology adoption
4. Wearing identifiable technology that labels people as “old”
Care recipients do not like carrying items that visibly display that something is wrong. If the technology is visible (e.g., in the case of wearable sensors), care recipients appreciate devices that give a dignified look and feel.
5. Need to design the technology for the end user
A study on mobile technology factors that influence the adoption and use among older adults concluded that the end user and the device must match, or as the study describes, “a user must be capable to handle the physical device as well as to understand and remember how the device and the services work.”
6. Lack of donor interest and fiscal space for aging populations and their caregivers
In LMICs, mobile strategies are not commonly developed for aging, which can be related to the current lack of donor interest and fiscal space for aging and for addressing demographic transitions, in general. Turning the discussion and devoting fiscal space towards aging will require strong political will and continued efforts demonstrating the urgency of this matter to individuals, families, and societies
The entire white paper is now available for view/download: http://mhealthalliance.org/images/content/mHA-Aging-Paper1_092713.pdf
The additional two papers will be released in the coming weeks and will be available on mHealth Alliance’s publications page.