Saturday, September 1, 2012

Diabetes Mobile Apps May Cause Usability Problems For Older Adults

Causing a number of severe health problems, diabetes is prevalent among people aged 65 and older. One of the most crucial things diabetics can do to control their illness is to maintain control of blood glucose levels. Although there are new technology products out there specially designed to help self-monitoring more easy and more accessible, the machines do not benefit some older users.

Laura A. Whitlock and Anne Collins McLaughlin, human factors/ergonomics researchers, examined the problems older adults might have using one type of new technology, blood-glucose-tracking applications for mobile devises. The findings will be presented at the upcoming HFES 56th Annual Meeting in Boston.

Mobile devices have tracking apps that are made to log the multiple variables, such as prescription drug use and food consumption, that impact blood glucose levels.

Other features helping diabetics monitor their blood glucose levels are sometimes found in the apps as well, such as:

    * educational tools
    * alarm-based reminders
    * interactive forums
    * report generators

However, older users will probably have a hard time using these apps because of the declines they will experience in vision, cognition, and motor skills as they age or with the progression of the disease. This is concerning because if these self-monitoring tools are too difficult for them to use, they will probably be discouraged and refrain from using them.

Three leading blood glucose apps were observed in the scientists' paper, "Identifying Usability Problems of Blood Glucose Tracking Apps for Older Adult Users," in order to see if they present older adults with usability problems, especially visual and physical obstacles.

Whitlock revealed:

    "We found that even though these apps are rated highly [in Apple's App Store], they may present a number of challenges for older adults."

Some examples of potential design issues include pages with:

    * small text
    * poor color contrast
    * icons that enter into an alternate mode if the individual holds the button too long
    * a font size that gets smaller when the length of the text is bigger than one line
    * scroll wheels that obscure the page view

The elderly who have memory limitations, poor vision, or declining motor skills have a high chance of experiencing issues with usability

Whitlock concluded:

    "Developers are recognizing and responding to the desire to use mobile technology to improve personal health, and we're going to continue to see the growth of mobile applications to answer health needs. However, I think it's important for the public to know that this can and should be done in a way that is accessible to all, including older adults."

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