Seniors Aren’t Tech-Averse. We’re Just Not Designing for Their Needs.

By Mark Luck Olson

Seniors are certainly less tech-savvy than younger generations who grew up with it. My parents are from the World War II generation, long before there was the personal computer, let alone the internet. Trying to help my aging mother with email is a challenge. But just because some may not know how to use TikTok, what a nonfungible token is or how to make the WiFi work doesn’t mean they are technology averse.

Of course, it is harder for seniors to adapt to new technology. Even so, the majority of older people have a smartphone and frequently post on social media and video chat with their grandchildren.

Far too many digital health companies mistakenly assume that because some older people struggle with new technology at first, they are totally averse to it. The problem is that digital health companies more often than not fail to design products with seniors in mind.

With the boom in virtual health, a wave of innovation and new technology is making it possible for seniors to age at home. This explosion in consumer-focused digital health is fundamentally about turning healthcare delivery upside down – from the patient visiting the healthcare system periodically to a system where healthcare is in our back pocket 24/7 on our terms.

For seniors who are less physically mobile and may lack transportation and companionship, this idea is even more crucial. Technology can greatly benefit older people, making it convenient and safe to connect with healthcare professionals and follow virtual health plans from the comfort of their own homes. In fact, technology use among people aged 50 and up has skyrocketed during the pandemic, according to an AARP report. Over the last decade, according to Pew Research Center, older people have increasingly adopted technology like  smartphones and tablets, and used social media. Businesswise, seniors make up a good portion of the population, and Medicare spending of nearly $830 billion in 2020 makes up 20% of total National Healthcare Expenditure.

The evolving definition of ‘elderly’

The definition of “old” isn’t what it used to be. The next generation of seniors will have spent much of their middle years using the internet, smartphones, tablets and various software applications, better positioning them to navigate the next iteration of high-tech gizmos and gadgets. Soon there will be no generation that isn’t used to technology being intertwined with daily activities.

For better or worse, retirement isn’t guaranteed as much as it once was, as more people continue to work after 65 – either because they have to, or they want to. According to a 2021 survey, nearly one in five seniors said they planned to work past the age of 70, and another 12% reported they would work full time for the rest of their lives. The image of a senior sitting in a rocking chair drinking lemonade all day is no longer accurate, if it ever was. For those working into their golden years, many will continue to use new and relevant technology regularly.  

Seniors use technology that is helpful for them

Trying to get a grip on the latest technology can be overwhelming and frustrating for seniors. But to then jump to a conclusion that most old people have an aversion to technology is flat out wrong.

Two years into the pandemic, older people, like everyone else, have also had to get more comfortable with virtual health technologies. With fewer in-person healthcare options combined with the risk of COVID-19, older people who have chronic health conditions, mobility issues or other healthcare needs are increasingly willing to turn toward virtual health services and products so they don’t have to leave the home. Aging at home is a trend that is expected to grow bigger in the years ahead, requiring digital health companies to target the aging population.

Digital health for seniors needs to be simple, frictionless

The need for digital health to improve the lives of seniors is there, and the willingness among seniors to use technology is growing. What’s needed is for digital health companies to rise to meet the moment by designing frictionless services and products. That means tricky sensors are out. In fact, ditch the hardware altogether. Forget about asking a senior to fiddle with sensors that require Bluetooth or WiFi. The user interface has to be simple, simple, simple.

In addition to making digital health as easy as possible for older people to use, the products need to take a human-centered approach to care. COVID-19 isn’t only a pandemic of illness; it has spurred a pandemic of isolation as well, particularly impacting older people. Digital health technology should not further fuel separation but rather inspire connectivity. With a click or a tap of the finger, a senior should be able to communicate with a health coach, start a video call with a medical professional or follow an exercise routine from their phone, tablet or desktop computer. Building relationships and trust are essential, as is having a virtual support team who can watch over seniors and intervene when needed.

Sadly, American culture doesn’t value its aging population as much as it could, giving rise to the negative stereotype that seniors are less capable, especially when it comes to technology. Yes, there is a generational gap, but that doesn’t mean digital health companies should treat seniors as irrelevant. The pandemic has shone a light on the need for more digital health solutions aimed at seniors, and research demonstrates they’re willing to adopt new technologies. Seniors deserve new digital health technologies just as much – if not more – than younger people.


MedCityNews: Have back, hip or knee pain? What to consider before seeing an orthopedic surgeon

MedCityNews | By Dr. Alan Daniels, April 6th, 2022

As an orthopedic spine surgeon who performs approximately 500 surgeries a year, my favorite type of patient is the one I never have to see—not even once. The reason for this is that means their musculoskeletal (MSK) issues—any condition or injury affecting joint, bone, tendon or muscle—haven’t progressed to the point where they need to consult with a surgeon.

To put it bluntly, surgery is not always the best answer. Surgery is invasive, expensive and sometimes risky. Often behavior modifications that help with losing weight and increasing mobility, such as exercise, stretching and eating healthily or physical therapy, can successfully address many MSK issues, while at the same time reducing healthcare spending. For example, when physical therapy is the first line of treatment, according to a systematic review in the Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal, it results in lower overall healthcare costs, fewer visits to the doctor and better patient mobility.

Mobi Health News: Digital musculoskeletal care is booming. Where does the market go from here?

Mobi Health News | By Emily Olsen, February 04, 2022

Musculoskeletal care is a big problem for the U.S. healthcare system, digital health companies say. Disorders are common and expensive to treat, but care that could cut down those high costs is inaccessible to many who need it.

That message is resonating with investors. Over the past year, they’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the digital MSK space. Unicorns Hinge Health and SWORD health both closed multiple rounds of funding in 2021, some worth nine figures

But they weren’t the only companies competing for venture dollars: Kaia HealthRecoveryOne and SpineZone also raked in millions of dollars in deals last year. Meanwhile, DarioHealth, which also offers tools for managing chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, bought its way into the space by acquiring Upright Technologies. It announced the launch of its MSK platform, called Dario Move, in October. 

RecoveryOne stakes claim in Medicare Advantage: Providing access for Seniors most in need of virtual MSK solutions

If you scan the digital health scene for companies that deliver virtual physical therapies for musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions to the senior population, you likely won’t find any. Yet, if you look at the sheer number of people with MSK problems, half of them are on a Medicare plan.

What’s the disconnect? The simple answer, partnering with a health plan serving Medicare customers is time-consuming and difficult. It’s not as easy as signing up a self-insured commercial customer, which is what other digital MSK health companies target.

That’s why we have expanded our partnership with Cigna to offer virtual physical therapy and a broad MSK solution to Medicare Advantage customers. It’s a strategic collaboration that has allowed us to make a real stake in Medicare by offering RecoveryOne’s solution to treat MSK conditions and injuries as an in-network benefit.

Our platform is currently available to Cigna Medicare Advantage customers within the Tennessee market, which includes plans in North Mississippi, Virginia and North Georgia, with the intention to expand to many other markets.

At RecoveryOne, we don’t shy away from challenges or hard sells. We are invested in our customers and make every effort to ensure all of their members have access to our MSK platform. In fact, RecoveryOne was founded originally to support total hip and total knee populations. It was our bread and butter in the early days and a meaningful proportion of those customers was in the 65 and older crowd. While we have improved our offering since then to be a comprehensive solution for all back and joint problems, we haven’t forgotten our roots and continue to support seniors.

The need for MSK solutions aimed at the senior population
Nearly three out of four people age 65 and over in the United States are affected by MSK ailments, most commonly damage caused by osteoarthritis and fall-related injuries. Yet, the MSK digital health industry is focused on self-insured employers, not Medicare-managed health plans, which cuts out a huge swath of the senior population, the ones who would benefit most from it. In some instances, digital health companies who contract with self-insured employers end up with older customers through the company retirement benefits program. But that’s almost by accident and makes up a marginal slice of the Medicare pie. We purposefully aim to help and support seniors.

RecoveryOne saw a need to expand digital programming to a vulnerable population. With Covid, it is even more important to offer virtual service so seniors don’t have to venture out into the pandemic and risk exposure. 

From the comforts of their home, seniors meet virtually with a physical therapist for an initial assessment. The appointment is with a real person, not a bot. Based on the unique factors for the individual, the therapist chooses one of our 200 clinically proven pathways that includes exercises to reduce pain and improve recovery. Every customer also receives a personal health coach who connects with them regularly to motivate and answer questions via messaging. To keep it simple, we don’t bother with sensors, they are bulky and annoying to wear during exercises.


Historically, most people don’t finish their in-person physical therapy, mainly because it’s a hassle. With RecoveryOne, it’s not a chore. It’s simply convenient and effective. And our health coaches are there to support seniors along the way.

 

Debunking the Myth Old People are Tech-Averse
The question I most often get asked about serving the Medicare population is “Aren’t seniors tech-averse?” I mistakenly assumed the same years ago. I’m relieved to know I was wrong.  So, let’s debunk it.

The vast majority of older people have smartphones. Grandparents today regularly use their phones to video chat with their grandchildren and post on Facebook. Today, smartphone adoption is 86% for 50 to 59 and 81% for those 60 to 69, with 62% of those 70 and older using smartphones. And that’s all you need to access our MSK solution.

On our platform, I’ve been pleasantly educated to see a senior population’s high level of comfort with our technology. Seniors surely aren’t as tech-savvy as the Gen Z population, but they are more than capable of accessing and navigating RecoveryOne. And just because they aren’t digital natives doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get access to digital health solutions.

A Scalable Solution for Seniors that Saves Money

Working with Cigna’s Medicare Advantage customers is a scalable, cost-effective solution for helping heal seniors with MSK injuries. 

Because Medicare Advantage customers don’t have to leave their homes or wait weeks for an available in-person appointment, they save money, time and energy not having to travel or pay for expensive gym memberships.

RecoveryOne saves health plans money. Based on national claims data from more than 350,000 members, RecoveryOne reduced the total medical cost by $751 per member per month for MSK-related diagnoses and reduced costs by nearly 77% for low back pain and 84% for rotator cuff tears.

So while the MSK digital health industry may appear crowded, it actually fails to address the senior consumer population. That’s a massive missed opportunity. Let’s help those who need virtual care most heal from their injuries or surgeries. Now that RecoveryOne’s solution is available to Medicare Advantage customers, there is work to be done to expand even further and improve our product even more.

Calming your mind and body

Pain helped early humans survive. When they felt pain, they saw it as a threat they needed to escape quickly. When you’re always in pain, though, your “high alert” system remains on for too long. You feel stressed and your muscles stay tense, which ends up making your pain even worse. Learning to calm your mind can help you reduce pain.

There are three ways to calm your mind: breathing slowly, being mindful, and using imagery. Though you can do these things almost anywhere, anytime, it can be helpful to set up a schedule to practice them. You could even do a short breathing, mindfulness, or imagery practice before or after your RecoveryOne exercise session. The better you get at calming your mind, the less tension and pain you’ll feel.

Slow, deep breathing is something that can help you relax quickly, and you can do it almost anywhere. All you have to do is breathe in through your nose for two counts and out through your mouth for four counts. Breathe deeply while keeping your chest and shoulders stable. Repeat this a few times and notice how it makes you feel.

Being mindful — you’ve probably heard of it as “mindfulness” — is not as complex as it sounds. It means being aware of your senses, thoughts, and feelings in the present moment, as they happen. To practice mindfulness, sit or lie down, close your eyes, and notice your thoughts. Do your best not to judge or analyze them; let them float away like clouds. Try setting a timer to practice for two or three minutes each day, and increase the time as you get better.

One more tactic to relax your mind and body is to use imagery, or to picture yourself in a calm place. Sit or lie down, close your eyes, and imagine a time or place that makes you feel at peace. This tactic works best when you use all of your senses. How does it feel to be in this place? What can you hear, see, smell, and taste? If you need some ideas, picture yourself lying on a warm beach, walking in a peaceful rainforest, swimming in a balmy pool, or taking a tranquil bubble bath. Learning to calm your mind and body can lessen the impact of stress and help with pain. Slow breathing, being mindful, and using imagery are simple methods that you can add to your daily routine. Your body will thank you for the small efforts you make to deal with stress.

Low back pain: Everyone’s getting it!

Have you ever had low back pain? Odds are, you have. Per the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 to 70 percent of people in high-income countries will have low back pain at least once in their lives. There are many causes for low back pain, so you should always consult with your doctor to make sure it’s nothing serious. That said, there are many things you can do to better understand your pain and work to relieve it.

To start, try to notice what caused or causes your pain and what your symptoms are. Your acute (sudden and short-lasting) low back pain could be linked to poor posture; sleeping oddly; or soreness that lingers after you do too much yardwork, pilates, or other intense activity. With low back pain from these causes, your back muscles might feel tight and tender to the touch. You could also have pain when you move in a certain way or stay in the same position for too long. You may have soreness in your hip or leg, decreased motion on one side, leg weakness with long periods of movement, or pain that affects your sleep. Your symptoms can be on one or both sides.

When you observe your symptoms, look out for any signs that mean you should seek medical care ASAP. These could be signs of something deeper than simple soreness, like nerve damage. Here are some red flags that may come with low back pain:

  • Numbness or tingling in your leg
  • Weakness in your leg that doesn’t come from prolonged movement
  • Your leg gives way while walking
  • Shooting, electric, or gnawing pain that goes down your leg
  • Pain that is constant and/or severe

Now for the best part: what to expect as you get better! Sometimes, back pain can go away on its own if you rest and avoid things that make your symptoms worse. Often, though, it takes special treatments to get better. These treatments include:

  • Using ice or heat
  • Putting on creams that numb your skin or reduce inflammation
  • Massage

Hear what others have to say about RecoveryOne.

The key to getting better from low back pain is physical therapy (PT). PT exercises that address stretching and strength are the base of recovery. When you do your PT exercises, do them with focus and good form. Also, be sure to keep doing PT exercises, even when you start to feel less pain. Though you might not think you need to, you should complete the full course of treatment to avoid getting hurt again. You may also need to switch up the types of activities you do for the short or long term to reduce symptoms and prevent reinjury.

You might wonder how long it’s going to take to recover. This can vary: sometimes, it can be a day or two. When pain sticks around, your recovery could take a couple of weeks to a few months. This process includes using the treatments we mentioned above. With a more serious issue, it could take you more than six months to get better, and you might need surgery. Make sure to follow up with a doctor if you’re having low back pain that doesn’t go away.

You’re not alone if you’re having low back pain. Though your symptoms may make you feel annoyed or upset, there are many things you can do to reduce or cure your pain. Physical therapy is the base of these treatments, and it can help you prevent other back problems in the future.

Putting ACT into ACTion

Pain can take up a lot of space in your brain. Sometimes, you might even feel like the struggle to avoid pain takes over your life. If so, acceptance and commitment (ACT) might be a good approach for you. With ACT, you can learn to accept that you have pain, but that you don’t have to put your life on pause to manage it.

Here’s an ACT exercise that can help you observe your pain without letting it take over. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Notice any physical sensations. You might notice pain or tightness, the fabric of your clothing on your skin, or maybe even a feeling of calm. Next, notice what you hear around you. Finally, notice your thoughts without judging them. You are not defined by your body, what you hear, or what you think. You can simply observe each of these without letting them take over who you are.

When you accept your pain and commit to your life, you can suffer a lot less. This approach isn’t magic; it doesn’t get rid of your pain, but it does help you avoid sadness or anger taking over your life. It’ll allow you to get back to things that make you happy, even when your muscles and joints aren’t 100% better.

Injury and Identity

How do you define yourself? Well, that’s a complex question. You might be defined by many things on paper: your name, your age, your job… but what matters most is how you see yourself, or your self-identity. Your self-identity is how you perceive your own traits and your place in the world.

It’s easy for sports or physical skills to become part of our self-identity. The better we become at a sport — such as lifting weights, CrossFit, running, football, or tennis — and the more we commit to it, the more likely we are to include it in our sense of self. Our physical skills can become a big part of how we see ourselves. As a result, getting injured can take a toll on our emotions, not just on our bodies. Anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression are common reactions. We begin to question who we are if we can’t lift weights, run, or play tennis. We might ask, “Where do I fit in now?”

No one wants to think about getting injured. That said, it is likely that we will have an injury at some point. It’s a good idea to think in advance about the emotions that might come with injury. Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself:

  1. Find interests and social connections outside of sports. This might take some thought if you devote a lot of time to training. What pros do you see in making time for new interests now, before an injury forces you to do so?
  2. Think about other things you enjoy in life. You might not get the same boost from other things that you get at the finish line of a 10K run, but there are sure to be other things you enjoy. What else makes you feel fulfilled, proud, or content?
  3. See what you have to offer that isn’t linked to physical skills. How do you self-identify outside of your sport? How much more do you have to offer the world, beyond what you can do physically?

An introduction to ACT

Have you ever felt like your pain takes a lot of space in your brain? Or that the more you think about easing your pain, the more it takes away from other things in your life? If so, acceptance and commitment (ACT) might be a good approach for you. ACT comes from the idea that pain hurts, but it is the ongoing struggle with pain that causes people to suffer. With ACT, you can learn to accept that you have pain, but that you don’t have to put your life on pause to manage it.

The first step of ACT is to accept your pain. Most people spend a lot of effort trying to get rid of their pain. How much energy do you put into fighting negative thoughts and feelings about your pain? As odd as it sounds, mental attempts to “fix” your pain can cause more harm than good. Think of it this way: compare the force it takes to hold a beach ball underwater (i.e., fighting your pain) versus the energy it takes to let it go and allow it to float at the surface (i.e., accepting the sensation of pain in your body).

Beyond letting yourself accept pain, the ACT approach asks you to commit to taking actions that will get you the things you love. Take a moment to reflect on what gives your life meaning, whether it’s your health, relationships, career, or other things. Ongoing pain can cause you to lose touch with what you value. You might even try to avoid things that are important to you because you are focused on your pain. In ACT, it’s key to define your values and choose actions that move you to things that give your life meaning. When you focus on your values, you can keep doing what you care about — even when you’re having pain or have to adjust how you do things.

Running tips: Stay healthy and avoid getting hurt

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed daily routines for a lot of us. No longer do we leave the house to stop for coffee, drive the 40 minutes to work, or move about the office for meetings. While working from home has had many pros and cons, it has caused a lot of us to be less active throughout the day.

To make up for this lack of action and social time during the day, many people have turned to more intense workouts. Sales of remote fitness products, such as Peloton, Mirror, and Nordic Track, have boomed during the past year. Of all types of activity, running has seen a huge surge, with many people running to help their physical and mental health.

With more running comes more risk for injury. Before COVID-19, most of us had not prepared our muscles and joints to handle so much impact and mileage. Common running-related issues include shin splints, ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, knee pain, and back pain. To avoid getting hurt, follow these tips:

  1. Maintain your shoes. Both miles and time affect your running shoes. Not only does the impact of running wear down your shoes, but the material of your shoes breaks down even if you’re not using them. We suggest you change your running shoes every 300 miles or every year, whichever comes first.
  2. Warm up and cool down. Going straight from the couch to a sprint is not a good idea. Try doing some light calf and quad stretching to loosen up your muscles. You can also start with a walk for the first few minutes, then ramp up to a jog, and then walk again at the end of your run. Warming up and cooling down protects your heart by making the change between resting and moving more gradual.
  3. Don’t tire yourself out too much. As you get tired, your form gets worse, which can cause injuries like sprained ankles. The “talk test” is one great way to measure if you’re overdoing it or not (i.e., would you be able to chat with a friend while running?) Another is the Karvonen heart rate formula, which can help keep you in a healthy heart rate zone during your exercise session.
  4. Avoid doing too many types of sports. Instead of jumping into hardcore circuits, biking, and running all at once, try sticking with one type of workout at first. Then, try adding in a second type once you have built up some strength. This will help you prep your body for the added stress of a new workout.
  5. Take days off. While many of us may want to come out of this year fitter than ever, working out every day can get you hurt. Take a break every other day, and make sure to take stock of how you’re feeling before you work out.
  6. When in doubt, seek someone out. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a health care provider for guidance. Your routine may have changed a lot in 2020 and 2021, so it’s important to consult with an expert before you exercise. If there’s anything that COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that our health and safety should be top concerns.