A Holistic, Technological Approach to Wellness

To help older adults stay independent, researchers and clinicians are interested in both preventing and maintaining wellness. The term “wellness” usually includes several dimensions, such as physical well-being, mental and cognitive health, spirituality, and social well-being. Wellness is a multi-dimensional, holistic concept and therefore a challenge for researchers to collect and analyze real-world data. A forthcoming article in Telemedicine & e-Health describes an eight-week study that used commercially available computer technology to conduct holistic wellness assessments among older adults in a community setting in Seattle, Washington.

Researchers wanted to assess the efficiency of using a public e-health kiosk for education and wellness assessment. The e-health kiosk was a commercially-available system that provided users with secure access to an individual health profile. The system was able to collect data such as weight, blood pressure, and heart rate, and was equipped with a questionnaire and a cognitive assessment program. In addition to assessing the users’ acceptance and practicality of the system, the researchers used the data collected in the study to examine the relationships between different aspects of wellness. They also conducted focus groups to understand how the participants viewed the system.

The kiosk was set up at a retirement community in a common area. A total of 27 participants with an average age of 88 years or slightly better were recruited for the eight-week study. All but two of the participants had some previous experience with computers, though only three described themselves as “highly comfortable” with computers. The kiosk, while located in a public area, was set up in such a way as to maximize privacy, and participants reported that they were comfortable with the privacy and security aspects of the study.

Overall, participants were able to successfully use the system to both complete wellness assessments and obtain relevant health information. In four cases, measures collected in the study generated health alerts to the researchers, leading to medication adjustment for one participant, and, in three cases, alerted participants to previously unknown blood pressure concerns.

Although the sample size was not large enough to draw firm conclusions about wellness, within this sample there were several statistical associations across areas of wellness, such as cognition and blood pressure. This offers further support for a multi-dimensional understanding of health and wellness. In contrast to previous studies, neither social support nor spirituality correlated with other measures of wellness, but that may be particular to this sample.

In addition to confirming the usefulness of a community, kiosk-type e-health system for individual health and wellness checkups, this study also suggests the benefits of such systems to collect research data across dimensions of wellness.

Source:

Thompson HJ, Demiris D, Rue T, et al. A Holistic Approach to Assess Older Adults’ Wellness Using e-Health Technologies. Telemedicine and e-Health. 2011; 17(10).

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