Mum, Dad, Reading Glasses, Arthritis and…iPhones?

“Pass me my reading glasses, will you? I can’t see the screen.”

For those of us working in the healthcare communications industry, words like apps, social media, digital, mhealth and self-management are part of everyday life. But what words make up the everyday life of our parents and grandparents? Well I don’t know about you, but my parents often struggle to even see the screen let alone have the confidence to use online and technologically advanced tools to look after their health. They’ve just about learned how to call me on Skype but setting up a Facebook account to keep up to date with my latest holiday snaps is way beyond their comfort zone. But this isn’t to say they can’t do it.

The ageing population is one of the key challenges and opportunities du jour for the healthcare industry. We can’t deny that the population is getting older, just as we can’t deny that digital and technological advancements are getting bolder. The question is: how do we make this oxymoronic marriage one made in heaven?

“I see next door have bought a nice new car.” For our parents and grandparents, it’s all about keeping up with the Joneses. For us, it’s all about influencing, motivating and supporting the Joneses to help them make positive decisions for their health.

According to a US-based survey, 40% of doctors believe that using mobile health technologies that monitor fitness and eating habits can reduce doctor visits, and 88% support patients monitoring their health at home. Combine these insights with the 10,000+ health apps available on iTunes and the math kind of speaks for itself.  But how do we apply these stats to an ageing Mr. and Mrs. Jones?

The World Health Organization has also been pondering this very topic. By 2050, nearly one in every four people will be over the age of 60. WHO believes that innovative technologies can help maintain the independence and physical health of older people. Mobile devices can now connect HCPs to seniors to family like never before, helping older patients remember to take their medication and stick to diet and fitness plans.  Devices now also have the ability to monitor health patterns and alert doctors when there are signs of trouble.  Older people no longer need to feel isolated in their daily healthcare needs.

In the healthcare communications industry, we need to carefully consider how we can use these technologies to assist potentially reluctant people like our parents—we must ensure that we listen to our audience, giving them what they need rather than what we think they need, finding out what they are comfortable with using, finding out if it is more appropriate to assist the caregiver over the patient, and taking a multi-generational approach. My mum and dad might not know how to use this app, but I do.

So it is up to us then. It is up to us as children and grandchildren to show the older generation they have our support and to pass on positive attitudes about using new technologies for healthy living. It is up to us as healthcare communicators to develop carefully designed and targeted tools, and to highlight the health value of using these, to help the ageing population embrace the technological revolution as much as we do. It is up to us to do this in a way that inspires, motivates and, above all, drives people to the sustainable action of taking control of their health. If we can make Mr. and Mrs. Jones next door embrace this, our parents will embrace it too.




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