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Words on Wounds

A forum to discuss the latest news and ideas in skin and wound care.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Fighting COVID-19 with mHealth in Older Adults

The current novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) crisis is an unprecedented global event, and our most vulnerable population—older adults living with frailty—is at the highest risk for serious impacts from the disease. One of the central public health mitigation strategies has been the establishment of "physical distancing" measures, which include avoiding close contact with others and limiting activities outside the home. However, the impact of physical distancing on older individuals can be devastating, leading to social isolation, poor mental health, and disability, particularly among those who are very old, frail, or have multiple chronic conditions such as wounds.

Older adults in isolation may have difficulty securing food to meet nutrition needs, maintaining physical activity to prevent deconditioning, and engaging in socialization to cope with loneliness and depression. Mental health problems in adults over 65 years are common and stressors associated with the pandemic may cause an increase in these numbers. Finding effective ways for older individuals to remain socially connected through the use of technology, video chat, and messaging apps (eg, Zoom, Messenger, FaceTime, Google Duo) and other social network platforms may help to mitigate some of the potential negative consequences of physical distancing for this population.  

These mobile health (mHealth) technologies afford new avenues for individuals to connect with others through social media sites and applications to share information, ideas, experiences, as well as personal messages, images, and other content. Using the Internet allows users ready access to health information and the opportunity for active participation in self-care decisions for treatment including wound care. Accumulating evidence suggests that mHealth use is also associated with improved adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviors that are important to wound healing.

The innovative use of social media has the potential to overcome geographic boundaries and time constraints, widen access to health information, allow users to make decisions by engaging in active or passive interactions, and access hard-to-reach or isolated populations. Whether the benefits of mHealth technologies are transferrable to the older adult population is unknown. In the past, there has been concern around older adults' digital literacy, interest in social media, and accessibility because of poor vision, hearing impairment, or limited dexterity in manipulating small devices. Within this current context, there is an urgent need to investigate the full potential of mHealth and social media solutions to help older adults living with frailty maintain and manage their mental health in their own environment.