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How to use your phone to stay happy and healthy

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The NHS has promised a digital revolution to transform patient care. Wider use of technology is central to a ten-year plan to reduce ill health by developing digital tools that the public can use to better manage disease.

However, research published yesterday by the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Apps, which evaluates digital health tools such as health service smartphone apps, found that older people often miss out on the benefits of technology.

Good Health looks at just a few smartphone apps that can improve the health of the elderly

It found that GPs recommend NHS-approved apps to more than twice as many people under 35 as those over 55, although the majority of older people said they would be happy to try NHS-approved healthcare apps.

Patient Safety Learning, a charity that lobbies for better healthcare standards, said doctors aren’t telling older people about the wide range of NHS-supported health apps that can benefit their well-being.

Good Health looks at just a few smartphone apps that can improve the health of the elderly, while Dr Trisha Macnair, an aged care specialist at Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham, Surrey, gives her verdict. . .

Memories to deal with dementia

My House Of Memories, free on Google Play on Android devices or AppStore on Apple devices

Dementia, which affects around 800,000 mainly older people in the UK, not only robs people of their memory but often causes excitement. My House Of Memories wants to help by storing images or sounds from the past that patients find comforting.

This could simply be a photo of old money from their childhood — like a ten shilling bill — or a Singer sewing machine that brings back fond memories of a family member who made clothes for them.

Personalized images, such as photos of favorite objects, loved ones, or old school friends, can also be uploaded to the app.

Expert opinion: ‘From the perspective of caring for people with dementia, we know that reminiscing about fond and distant memories can help them cope with their illness. It allows them to feel involved, which improves their mood and quality of life. So I’m sure this can be helpful – although it does require the help of a caregiver to use it.”

Medicines sent to your door

Hello Pharmacist, Free on Google Play or AppStore

According to the Age UK charity, around four million people over 65 in the UK take five or more prescription medicines – many on a daily basis.

For elderly patients, it is essential to ensure they have an uninterrupted supply of those drugs, even though many may be housebound.

The NHS-approved Hey Pharmacist app aims to take the headache out by allowing patients to order repeat prescriptions via the app from any pharmacy in England and have them delivered to their door.

After downloading the app and submitting a prescription request, it is checked by the patient’s GP and delivered within a few days. The app can remind the patient to order another prescription when supplies are running low.

expert opinion: ‘This is really useful. I work in aged care and constantly try to convince patients to use his kind of technology to make sure their meds don’t run out.

“People who use smartphone apps seem to understand it quite easily, but it can be more difficult for people in their late 70s.”

Do an exercise test at home

EXi, free on Google Play or AppStore

GPs looking to assess an elderly person’s condition often refer them for a six-minute walk test — how far they can walk in that time. It is a measure of aerobic fitness and a vital guide to overall wellness.

The EXi app allows patients to take the test in their own garden or on a local walk, instead of going to a clinic.

It also creates a 12-week exercise plan based on each patient’s own health information — such as weight, underlying health conditions, and whether they smoke. The app gradually increases the level of exercise until the patient meets the NHS recommended five 30-minute sessions per week at the end of the three-month regimen.

Expert opinion: ‘This can be helpful, but we know that most people find it difficult to get motivated to exercise unless they have someone with them who does it. This is especially true for the elderly, for whom social interaction is just as important as physical activity.’

App to catch leaks

Squeezy, £2.99, Google Play or AppStore

An estimated seven million people in the UK – mostly women – suffer from urinary incontinence. It tends to affect older people because the muscles that control bladder function weaken with age.

Pelvic floor exercises are known to help combat the problem, but they must be performed regularly and in the right way to be of real benefit – something many patients struggle with. The Squeezy app, intended for both men and women, provides patients with a pelvic floor exercise plan developed by physical therapists who specialize in women’s health.

Users receive clear instructions on how to perform pelvic floor exercises effectively – to improve bladder control – and a diary function allows them to chart improvements in their condition.

expert opinion: ‘A very useful app. Half the problem with pelvic floor exercises is that you are never quite sure whether you are contracting the right muscles, but with this app to guide you the chance is much smaller.’

managing your heart health

Engage Self-Care app, free on Google Play or AppStore

At least one million people in the UK have atrial fibrillation, where an abnormal heartbeat means blood pools in the pumping chambers of the heart – increasing the risk of a clot that can cause a stroke.

The average age of onset is about 75 years. Many of the diagnosed patients rely on the blood-thinning drug warfarin to reduce the risk of stroke. But the drug must be carefully monitored, as too much can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

This means regular tests in a clinic — usually every four to six weeks — to measure the amount of the drug in the blood.

The NHS-approved Engage app allows patients to do this at home – avoiding hospital trips – provided they have been given a test kit from their GP.

The app stores readings and wirelessly shares them with the patient’s doctor so they can monitor drug levels remotely.

Expert verdict: ‘Most patients on warfarin need regular checkups or a district nurse every few weeks for a blood draw, but the app could make life a lot easier.’

Keeping up to date with daily pills

Pillboxie, £1.79, AppStore

Billed as the ‘easy way to remember your medicines’, this app lets you log which tablets to take and at what time each day. But what makes this so user-friendly is that it provides visual – rather than just text-based – reminders to take medicine.

For example, if a drug is due to be taken at 7 a.m., a tablet will appear in a pillbox image and remain there until the patient tells the app that he has taken the drug. Separately, the app can flash a list of ‘drugs that are finished today’, which the patient can check off along the way.

Expert verdict: “Apps like this are a great idea and their visual element will probably make it more user-friendly. I know that pharmacists sometimes have to call patients every day to remind them to take their medicines. By using this app, patients cannot accidentally skip doses.”

Sounds to help you dream away

Pzizz, free on Google Play or AppStore

MANY older people have trouble sleeping. This may be due to a daytime nap, which reduces nighttime fatigue. The Pzizz app uses a complex mix of music, voiceovers and various background sound effects to create what the creators describe as a ‘Dreamscape’ to encourage sleep.

Expert verdict: ‘Sleep problems in the elderly are common and can make them anxious, making it even more difficult to fall asleep. This app may be able to help.’

Staying mobile to banish pain

ESCAPE pain app, free on Google Play

Staying mobile is vital when dealing with chronic pain. The Escape-pain app is for people in pain who want to stay mobile at home instead of taking fitness classes. It has videos with clear instructions on gentle exercises and lets users chart their progress and track pain.

Expert verdict: ‘We know that in conditions such as osteoarthritis, which affects around eight million people in the UK, staying mobile is essential to control pain as it maintains muscle strength.

“Apps like these help patients find the right kind and amount of exercise for them.”

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