A tracking bracelet is a wearable device able to monitor our physical activity, that is how much we move during the day and during the night. Tracking bracelets became famous in the domain of fitness, thanks to products such as the Fitbit family (The Shop). A tracking bracelet can indeed help us to keep track of how many steps we take, the distance covered in a defined range of time, the number of stairs climbed, and in some cases even the heart rate, the calories we have burnt and how much we slept. And based on that, some tracking bracelet models can send us alerts, reminders, advice and motivational prompts to help us reach our fitness goals. This is ideal if we are following a fitness program, or just as an awareness and motivational tool to increase our level of physical activity.
What is the interest of employing a tracking bracelet in elderly people?
There are many reasons why you may want your parents to wear a tracking bracelet. Here we will review the main four based on recent scientific evidence!
Motivate seniors to do physical exercise
People that are less physically active have an increased risk to develop dementia as they age (see dementia risk assessment). Modeling studies have estimated that a decline in physical inactivity rate by 5% would reduce dementia worldwide by 11%! As, so far, there is no final cure to dementia, it is crucial to act on prevention, and, among others, do regular physical activity. A tracking bracelet can motivate us and our parents to move more in several ways. First of all, it tells us how much we did in one day, thus helping us to increase our self-awareness of how much activity we do. People often underestimate the role of walking in keeping physical fitness. Showing them how many calories they burn in a half an hour walk can motivate to keep going, and to do that regularly. Second, it can send us messages and emails to congratulate with us with an achievement, or send us advice on how to improve the daily amount of activity. Third, the results can be easily shared with other people, who can further motivate and help us in keeping a regular exercise schedule.
Detect early signs of physical decline
When our body becomes more fragile, we have a natural tendency to move less. This is immediately evident if we have a broken leg, because there is a sudden change in our amount of daily physical activity. However, physical frailty in older people (which can be the initial stage of a pathological decline) is often characterized by a slow and progressive decline, which is sometimes hard to detect at the beginning. A tracking bracelet that keeps track of the motion history can be easily employed to detect a reduction of the normal amount of physical activity. What is important, a tracking bracelet does provide an objective measure of how much a person is slowing down his/her everyday physical activities, to be eventually shared with healthcare professionals. Detecting physical frailty on time increases the chances to be able to reverse a decline possibly leading to dementia!
Detect sleep disorders
Sleeping well is important to maintain a physical and mental wellbeing, and does improve our quality of life. Unfortunately, sleep disorders such as insomnia worsen with age, and are very common in age-related pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia-related disorders (e.g., Lewy bodies dementia; see Light therapy for insomnia). Common reasons for sleep disturbances include wrong habits (e.g., drinking coffee in the late afternoon or napping too much during the day), untreated pain, incontinence, medications, and behavioral disturbances, such as agitation.
When persons have some forms of cognitive decline, it is sometimes hard for them to evaluate objectively how much and how well the slept. A tracking bracelet can easily fix this problem. A tracking bracelet can tell what time and how long a person slept, how many times he/she woke up, and similar aspects. Knowing that there is a sleeping issue (and quantifying it) is the first step to fix it, and the analyses of the sleep and activity pattern can even provide hints on the insomnia causes (e.g., daytime napping, or incontinence).
Detect behavioral disturbances such as apathy or agitation
Behavioral disturbances such as apathy (a reduction of motivation leading to a decrease in everyday activities and emotion flattening) and agitation are very common in people with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, and they often appear very early in the disease progression. These symptoms can be very disabling and affect consistently the patient’s life, as well as the life of the person around him/her. However, detecting the initial stages of these disorders can be difficult. A number of studies confirmed that a tracking bracelet is useful to detect and quantify both apathy and agitation in elderly people. For more information, you can read for instance:
David, R., E. Mulin, et al. (2011). “Decreased Daytime Motor Activity Associated With Apathy in Alzheimer Disease: An Actigraphic Study.” Am J Geriatr Psychiatry.
A tracking bracelet is a non-invasive, relatively cheap and wearable device that can facilitate the early detection of physical decline, behavioral disturbances (such as apathy and agitation), and sleep disorders such as insomnia. Furthermore, tracking bracelets can motivate to make more physical activities. Taken together, all these aspects can improve our chances to prevent, delay or slow down a pathological decline, without requiring a big effort. Next time you look for a perfect gift for your 70 years old dad, keep in mind the tracking bracelet! (see also gifts for seniors).