Just over 1 in 4 people over 50 in the U.S. use at least one mobile health app, and 56% of older people have never used one. Among seven mhealth tools, the most commonly-used is to track exercise.

Among older people who do not use health apps, half say it is because of their lack of interest, we learn from the research in Mobile Health App Use Among Older Adults from the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging, sponsored by AARP.

The project is part of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s med school, and directed by the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation at U-M.

One in 3 older people who use a mobile health app do so for exercise, followed by nutrition (currently adopted by 22% of older folks), weight loss (for 20%), and sleep (17%).

Blood pressure apps are used by only 9% of older Americans, meditation 8%, and mobile apps for mental health and stress management used by only 5% of people 50 and over.

The most popular reason older consumers use health apps is to keep track of their health (70%), followed by getting information about health (39%) and 1 in 10 folks sharing or competing with family and friends.

There is a mobile health app divide between wealthier, healthier, and more educated people (those with at least a B.A. degree) versus people living in lower-income households, those with a high school degree or less, and less healthy adults.

This National Poll on Health Aging was conducted among 2,110 people in the U.S. between 50 and 80 years of age online and via phone in August 2-21.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  The incidence of hypertension increases with age: yet older people are often under-treated for elevated blood pressure, the American College of Cardiology recognizes. In addition, the risk of onset of diabetes also increases with age, according to the CDC.

The Poll found that while one in 6 older adults (17%) reported being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, only 39% had ever used a mobile health app. Just one in 4 older people with Type 2 diabetes reported currently using a mobile app to monitor their blood sugar. Another one-half would be interested in using an app for managing their condition as well as their diabetes medication use.

Only 9% of people over 50 are using a mobile app to deal with blood pressure, the Poll learned. But the CDC has found that two in 3 people 60 and over have hypertension.

And both factors — hypertension and diabetes — contribute to greater risk of stroke.

Behavior change in health is hard, especially when people don’t know the facts about the need to track chronic conditions and then feel empowered to make the changes to address those conditions.

A recent Rock Health report looked at the “unprecedented market” for aging-in-place and addressing health technologies focused on older peoples’ self-care. While three-quarters of people over 55 years of age want to age-in-place, only half believes they will be able to due to factors preventing them to do so: accessibility, transportation and mobility, and home maintenance challenges, the report called out.

The pandemic accelerated many seniors’ use of technology — from adopting video-conferencing to socialize with family and friends to using virtual care and digital health at home when faced with risk-managing exposure to the coronavirus. Adopting human/user-centered design principles and privacy-by-design would help to address some of the obstacles the Rock Health report noted, along with growing the relative low adoption numbers the National Poll on Healthy Aging uncovered.

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