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Get moving: DeGroote-led team studies barriers to wearable technology among older adults


Published: September 30, 2017  

By Izabela Szydlo, DeGroote Research Writer

From counting burned calories to monitoring sleep and heart rate changes, wearable activity devices are designed to help improve health. But are older Canadians receptive to using wearable technology? 

It’s a question worth answering. For the first time, Canada has more seniors, 5.9 million, than children. By 2036, Statistics Canada is projecting that number will vary between 9.9 and 10.9 million.

Now — with $40,000 in funding thanks to a McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) Catalyst Grant, and with additional financial support from the DeGroote School of Business — a multidisciplinary team of McMaster researchers is aiming to find out. The team is examining the effects of older adults’ cognitive age on their disability perceptions, which can influence their adoption of smart devices. 

“We want to understand what influences older adults’ perceptions regarding wearable devices. If our theory is correct, there are many interventions that can be applied to encourage older adults to use these devices as a way to improve overall health,” explains Manaf Zargoush, Assistant Professor, Health Policy and Management, at DeGroote.

Zargoush is one of four co-applicants in this project, which is being led by Maryam Ghasemaghaei, Assistant Professor, Information Systems, at DeGroote. “Based on our literature review, some older adults are not using these devices because their perception is that they are difficult to use,” Zargoush continues.

The project’s main area — information systems with the focus of using wearable devices, in which Ghasemaghaei is an expert — benefits from the well-rounded expertise of its co-applicants. 

Zargoush’s knowledge lies in the intersection of health care and analytics. Stuart Phillips, a Professor in McMaster’s Department of Kinesiology, is an expert in the interaction between exercise and diet in physical activity, while Reza Samavi, Assistant Professor, Department of Computing and Software, studies health data management.

The researchers will use qualitative and quantitative methods to inform their research, Cognitive vs. Chronological Age as Barriers to Using Wearable Activity Monitors in Older Persons.

“An individual’s disability perceptions may be influenced by their cognitive age — how old individuals consider themselves based on self-perceptions regarding their actions, feelings, appearance, and interests,” explains Ghasemaghaei.

“Cognitive age has been found to be more effective in capturing older adults’ lifestyle habits, and predicting their perceptions and behaviour than other widely used variables such as education, income, and health. So, someone whose chronological age [number of years from birth] is 90 could have a cognitive age of 70, and that may impact their perceptions of using wearables.”

Cognitive age has been found to be more effective in capturing older adults’ lifestyle habits, and predicting their perceptions and behaviour than other widely used variables such as education, income, and health.”

 The team’s research in this space also has the potential, offers Ghasemaghaei, to influence numerous areas.

“An issue facing the health care system is how to collect large amounts of data to predict a person’s health issues and help them improve,” she says. “Analysis of the huge amounts of data these devices produce could help. Moreover, our research could assist health care professionals to understand critical factors in older adults’ usage of wearables so they could motivate their patients and increase usage.”

On the business side, Ghasemaghaei adds, the findings could help system designers recognize the main design elements to be considered while creating smart devices for older adults.

Ultimately, according to Zargoush, with a few enhancements older adults would benefit in terms of their confidence in utilizing the emerging technologies. And, in turn, their overall health may improve through increased physical activity that often results from the use of wearables.

“Older adults are a very important part of our society, and improving their health also has a positive impact on their family, which in turn has a positive impact on society,” he says.

The $40,000 grant is part of new funding opportunities announced by MIRA earlier this year intended to focus on cross-faculty collaboration in aging and mobility.

MIRA Planning Grant funding awarded to DeGroote’s Pina Del Monte: 

Pina Del Monte, DeGroote Research Support Facilitator, along with her counterpart Grace Pollock from the Faculty of Humanities, has received funding for a MIRA Planning Grant, Exploring Applied and Collaborative Research for the Aging Population. 

On behalf of their respective Associate Deans, Research and Graduate Studies, Del Monte and Pollock will receive $5,000 to coordinate engagements to enhance interdisciplinary collaborations between the Faculties of Business, Humanities, and other faculties in areas of research aimed at enhancing the health and wellbeing of the aging population.

Source: DeGroote School of Business


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