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Mobile applications may have a role in combating climate-related health challenges faced by older adults

Black D, O’Loughlin K, Wilson L. Climate change and the health of older people in Australia: A scoping review on the role of mobile applications (apps) in ameliorating impact Australasian Journal on Ageing. 2018; 37(2): 99-106.

Review question

      How useful are mobile apps as a tool to improve aging and health in community‐dwelling older adults?

Background

      By 2061, adults aged 65 or older are expected to make up more than 22% of Australia’s population. Similar or greater proportions of the aging population are projected in Europe, the United States, and developed countries across Asia.

      Along with the research on the aging population is research evidence indicating the increasing threat of climate change on human health (such as extreme heat events and other extreme weather events)

      Previous research has shown that older adults are more likely to be affected and less able to cope with changing climate conditions due to a range of physical, social, and health-related factors.

      To dampen the impact of climate change on the health of older people, authors of this review were interested in examining the utility of mobile apps as a tool to improve climate‐associated health management. Such an app could provide older adults with information related to weather, transport, community activities, and accessibility information based on the user’s location.

      This systematic review aims to assess the breadth and quality of research on the development and implementation of mobile apps related to aging and health in community‐dwelling populations in the context of climate change.

How the review was done

      Review authors conducted a detailed search of four research databases for eligible studies looking at the use of mobile apps for improving health of older adults through increased access to information about the external environment.

      The search was limited to articles published in English between 2002 and 2017.

      The search strategy was very broad and keywords included ‘mobile app’ and ‘health’ OR ‘smartphone’ and ‘health’.

      A total of 5,981 articles were retrieved from the initial search, of which 35 were included in this review.

      This review received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors. No conflicts of interest were declared.

What the researchers found

      Of the 35 included studies, 15 addressed target groups with chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease and type II diabetes mellitus. There was one study on each of the following groups of older adults: those taking multiple medications; taking anticoagulants; with stage 4 or 5 chronic kidney disease; with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; who suffered a stroke; with urinary incontinence; with serious mental-health issues; and with chronic disease in general.

      Three studies specifically focused on older adults who were insufficiently active, three targeted people with dementia, one study looked at nursing-home residents, and the remainder targeted community-dwelling older adults with no specific condition.

      In many of the studies, the purpose of the apps was to measure lifestyle factors such as physical activity, with scores for sitting time, steps, sedentary behaviour, pedometer use, motivation to exercise, and diet. Another frequently measured index was adherence to medication. Three apps used sensors to measure frailty, falls, and motion.

      Review authors found that there was a lack of rigorously designed studies that specifically target older adults’ use of mobile apps and that take into account the extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Conclusion

      Australian baby boomers, currently in the 52–71 years age group, are living in an increasingly challenging climate with increasingly frequent severe weather events.

      Mobile apps may provide an excellent opportunity to assist in improving access to health and social services, and in maintaining or improving physical and mental health.

      There is currently a gap in the literature surrounding the usage of mobile apps to address this growing concern. The reviewers additionally highlighted the need to develop and rigorously test apps combining information from a number of different government sources in one age‐friendly app to assist older adults in accessing information about their external environment.




Glossary

Anticoagulants
Medications that suppress, delay, or prevent blood clots. Anticoagulants (also referred to as "blood thinners") are used to treat circulatory blockages.
Coronary heart disease
Also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a narrowing of the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply oxygen and blood to the heart.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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