designing medical devices for an aging populationIn recent posts, we have been exploring the relationship between new medical technologies and an aging population. Instrumental in this exploration has been the findings of the AARP’s Project Catalyst.

Project Catalyst seeks to support innovation in medical device development by generating insight into the consumer behavior of older adults as it relates to health, wellness and independence.

The Project has just concluded its first study, centered on activity trackers. The study suggests that designing medical products for older individuals must start with careful design of the user experience at the very first points of interaction. Most of the frustration that users in the study had with devices involved difficulties in understanding how to set up the device. 81 percent of participants age 70-plus were not able to set up their trackers without assistance.  Once set up, usability was good.

Physical discomfort was another significant factor that led to users abandoning the use of the devices after several weeks. 34 participants reported discomfort due to band inflexibility, incorrect band size and clasps on wrist-worn trackers that irritated the skin.

Style also matters. In the AARP study, some participants considered their trackers to be attractive while others were reluctant to wear them in public. Ultimately, participants wanted devices that fit their style and fashion sense. Some wanted colorful devices while others preferred them to be inconspicuous.

Providing feedback toward goals is important. Some trackers did not have displays. Many of the study participants viewed that as a significant drawback. Being able to see progress in real-time was a motivator.

Specific recommendations from the study:

  • Provide detailed, easy-to-understand instructions.
  • Provide an explanation of how activity and sleep trackers collect data (provides confidence that the data is accurate).
  • Ensure robust syncing capabilities.
  • Ensure comfort while wearing the tracker.
  • Ensure timely notifications targeted to 50-plus consumers.
  • Providing a display for instant information access.
  • Incorporate additional sensors related to health-specific conditions.