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Diabetes apps present usability problems for older adults

Researchers find a range of potential design problems with smartphone apps

Smartphone apps for people with diabetes are not being designed with older adults in mind, leading to a number of usability challenges, according to a new report.

Researchers from the non-profit Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) surveyed three of the leading iPhone blood glucose tracking mobile applications and identified a number of accessibility problems.

The Society's Laura Whitlock said: “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 346 million people worldwide have diabetes and, while significant numbers of older people are affected, those over 65 with the condition are particularly prevalent in the developed world.

In the UK, for example, around 20 per cent of those aged over 65 have diabetes, a figure that rises to 50 per cent in some ethnic groups and the obese.

As a result of the decline in cognition, vision, and motor skills that can occur with ageing or the progression of the disease, the HFES says patients may be discouraged from using them.

Pages with small text, poor colour contrast and icons that enter into an alternate mode if held down too long were all given as examples of things that could cause problems.

But Whitlock said things are changing. “Developers are recognising 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.”

Nonetheless, the HFES' Identifying Usability Problems of Blood Glucose Tracking Apps for Older Adult Users paper found a number of features lacking, including decision aid features that use logged data to make personalised recommendations to the user.

Writing in the report, a copy of which was obtained by PMLiVE, HFES researchers said: “Further researcher is needed to clarify the appropriate role of blood glucose decision aids for mobile devices.”

The research may be somewhat theoretical at the moment. In the UK, 39 per cent of the population uses a smartphone, according to Ofcom, but the UK communications regulator says this drops to just 3 per cent for those aged 65 and over.

Nevertheless, as uptake of smartphones, across all age groups increases, developers would be well advised to lean on the research for any apps aimed at older people.

• Identifying Usability Problems of Blood Glucose Tracking Apps for Older Adult Users will be presented at the HFES' annual meeting in Boston, US next month

18th September 2012

From: Marketing

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