ideas, innovations and apps for social work in the age of smartphones and social media 

Using Mobile Technologies for Healthier Aging – Ada Kwan, mHealth Alliance, United Nations Foundation


Globally, there is a demographic transition underway. People are living longer. Even though “old” is defined differently across the world, there will be more people over the age of 65 than children under five by 2015.By 2050, there will be an estimated 1.5B people age 65 or older.Without strong preparation around prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, the so-called “silver tsunami” will significantly increase the burden of global diseases associated with aging, notably for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), or chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The burden of disease will also include declining cognitive acuity and mental health without adequate preparation. Clearly, this situation creates urgent needs worldwide to extend access to health information, develop new and effective behavior change strategies, and expand access to appropriate health services. With the exponential spread and penetration of mobile phone coverage and access in even the most remote places, mHealth, or the use of mobile information and communication technologies for health, and related software applications offer unique opportunities. By advancing and accelerating innovative mHealth solutions for aging populations, the promise of greater longevity – additional active and productive years – is more likely to materialize.

The objective of this report is to provide momentum to an emerging conversation on ways mobile communications technology can help people age better and in good health. The report is mindful of the fact that different opportunities and challenges exist in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) versus developed countries. At the same time, this report considers how mHealth innovations occurring in each are also instructive to one another. Many of the examples in this report are drawn from developed world contexts with a view towards how programs can be tailored for LMIC conditions. This report serves both as a resource and a call-to-action for all stakeholders including project implementers, organizations, the private sector, and policymakers.

This report was informed by a review of both white and gray literature on aging, chronic conditions, and the use of mobile technologies for health. New ideas and gaps in the existing knowledge base around mHealth and aging were also identified through primary and secondary research. Key informant interviews were conducted with experts in health, technology, and aging populations, as well as individuals with experience in the development and implementation of
mHealth programs in countries around the world.

Findings and Conclusions
Research is prolific on aging issues and the base of analytical work around mHealth is growing, but coordination and sharing of lessons learned need improvement. There are several programs, only a few research initiatives, and even fewer trials that focus on the intersection of mHealth and age. Emerging evidence supports the use of mHealth to promote efficiencies in care management practices and improvements in individual and population health outcomes through behavior change strategies aimed at increasing healthier behaviors (e.g., exercise, appointment attendance, treatment compliance), reducing unhealthy behaviors (e.g., tobacco use), and expanding access to care for chronic disease management. Additionally, an mHealth for aging ecosystem is beginning to form that includes not only older people, but also others who are a part of an older person’s life, including friends, family, caregivers, and healthcare providers. Strategic planning and stronger coordination across the fields of health, information technologies, and aging are necessary to ensure that the full potential of mobile and wireless technology for the improvement of preventive and supportive care for conditions associated with aging can be realized for older people, the fastest growing segment of the population worldwide. A call-to-action is made to catalyze a conversation among stakeholders and to identify areas that can be advanced today.

Download the full report.


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Lutz Siemer

Lutz Siemer

Education, Research & Development in Social Work & IT After working as an alternative practitioner and psychotherapist in private practice for nearly ten years I stepped over to higher education in 2005. At Saxion University of Applied Sciences I lecture and do research and development in the area of Social Work, Psychology and IT. Currently I'm focussing on merging mobile technology and social work.

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