Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. 2016;24(1):36.
A new tablet app developed by researchers at the University of Notre Dame is aimed at enhancing the physical health, vitality, and brain fitness of seniors residing in independent living communities. The app features tracking and gaming elements as well as a variety of ways for seniors to communicate with caretakers and nurses.
One of the persistent challenges of caring for older adults living in senior communities is how caretakers and nurses can provide adequately individualized support in an environment with many residents. Unlike many available apps for seniors that merely track data, this app—called eSeniorCare (http://bit.ly/1NJGlLd) and developed by Notre Dame’s Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications (iCeNSA)—creates a “personalized socioecological construct” around the senior. The app empowers and engages seniors to achieve their health goals. A physical health component of the app allows seniors to set and track a variety of goals—such as eating less fast food or drinking less caffeine—and to record various activities in support of such goals. These records can then be sent to resident health administrators for guidance, reflection, and personal motivation.
At the same time, the app aids in the provision of a continuity of care, allowing health workers to proactively reach out to older adults who may be at-risk. Seniors can connect with care providers at any time by sending concerns and questions via text or voice recordings. The app also features medication scheduling, medication history, and reminders for seniors that also allow caretakers to quickly see and address when medications aren’t being taken correctly or renewed on time. In addition, the app’s most popular features include brain games (crossword puzzles, Sudoku puzzles, etc) designed to enhance cognitive health and prevent mental impairment.
eSeniorCare was first implemented at two senior independent living facilities; in a pilot study that followed, the researchers tracked the medication management component for 3 months and the daily activities for 7 months, finding that seniors’ technology comfort and literacy increased. There was also an increase in interpersonal interactions among all participants. A second pilot study currently underway is tracking brain games, activity, and health and medication components and has thus far seen high engagement with brain games, high engagement with the communication components for connecting with care providers, and an increased sense of purpose and mental stimulation among the participants.
As might be expected, seniors exhibited a degree of trepidation when first using the tablet app. However, they quickly became not only comfortable with the technology but also enthusiastic about using it. The transition was further eased by pairing seniors with high school students as they were first learning how to use the app. Nitesh Chawla, director iCeNSA, said, “It is about how we can bring data and technology together to help empower the aging population to live healthy, independent, social, and productive lives. It is about making a difference.”—Amanda Del Signore