Mobile health apps can help older Americans but only about four in 10 use them, and those most likely to benefit are least likely to take advantage of them, a new survey reveals.
Health apps monitor everything from calories and exercise to blood pressure and blood sugar to help users manage chronic conditions or achieve health goals.
"Now that most older adults have at least one mobile device, health-related apps can provide an opportunity to support their health-related behaviors, manage their conditions and improve health outcomes," said Dr. Pearl Lee, a geriatrician at Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan who worked on the poll report.
But this phone poll of more than 2,100 Americans between 50 and 80 years of age found that only 44% had ever used a health app on their smartphone, tablet or wearable device.
Respondents who were least likely to have done so included those in poor health and those with lower levels of education or income, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging from the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
People with incomes over $100,000 were nearly three times more likely than those with incomes under $30,000 to use health apps (43% versus 15%). Those with college degrees were more than twice as likely to do so than those who had not completed high school.
Half of those who never used a health app or who stopped said they have no interest in doing so, the findings showed.
Many apps can be useful to seniors, according to AARP and Senior Living.org, an organization for older people and their caregivers.
In all, 28% of respondents in the new poll said they currently use at least one health app. One-third said they use an app to track their physical activity, while smaller numbers use apps to keep tabs on sleep, weight, nutrition or blood pressure, to guide meditation, or manage mental health and stress.
One-quarter of current users said they have shared information from their apps with their health care providers, according to a news release from Michigan Medicine.
Among respondents with diabetes, only 28% said they use an app to record their blood sugar levels while 14% use an app to log their medications. Nearly half of respondents with diabetes said they would be interested in using an app in both ways.
The poll also asked participants about continuous glucose monitors, which people with diabetes wear on their skin to monitor their blood sugar over the long term. The monitors can connect with mobile devices to feed readings into an app.
Only 11% of the respondents with type 2 diabetes said they use this type of monitor. Another 68% had heard of them, and more than half of those said they might be interested in using one, the survey found.
"People who describe their health as fair or poor - the people who might be most in need of the kind of tracking, support and information a good health app can give - were significantly less likely to use such apps than those who say they're in excellent, very good or good health," said poll director Dr. Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at Michigan Medicine with training in geriatrics.
"Health providers should consider discussing the use of health apps with their patients, because one-third said they had never thought about using one," Malani suggested.
HealthinAging.org offers wellness and prevention resources for older adults.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan, news release, Feb. 9, 2022