In a recent study published in Nutrients, researchers reviewed existing evidence on the use of technology in managing the nutrition of older adults.
Study: A Scoping Review of Nutrition Health for Older Adults: Does Technology Help? Image Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock.com
In the United States (US), 25% of the population is aged ≥ 65, and many cannot use technology. However, studies report that computer-based assessment systems and assistive robots can improve nutrition awareness in older populations.
Physiological changes in musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurological systems are part of aging and major factors in age-associated chronic illnesses.
An optimal diet can enhance lifespan and independence and reduce healthcare costs. Health status may vary among older people; technology could help manage this variability and the nutrition care process. Government-funded meal and health support programs are intended to address the nutritional status of older people.
Besides, registered dietician nutritionists (RDNs) can help optimize the nutritional status of older adults. Nevertheless, there are barriers to accessing RDNs and nutrition services, such as living in rural areas, low economic status, and disabilities. Technological interventions can be promising to overcome these barriers.
About the study
In the present study, researchers analyzed the available evidence on the use of technology for managing the nutrition of older adults.
They searched several databases for peer-reviewed studies, such as Web of Science, PubMed, ScienceDirect, Business Source Elite, and Abstracted Business Information (ABI)/INFORM collection. Studies were eligible if they included older people and evaluated nutrition management technology.
Titles/abstracts were screened, and full texts of relevant studies were reviewed. Relevant data were extracted from the included studies.
The type of technology in the included studies was categorized as smart devices, home-based sensors, fitness devices, webcams, mobile device sensors, tablet computers, telephones, smartphones, software applications, video-conferencing, or assistive robots.
Data on studies’ nutritional areas of focus were 1) weight and body composition, 2) assessment, monitoring, and tracking (of dietary behaviors), 3) education/counseling, 4) nutrition status, 5) diet intake and quality, and 6) activities of daily living. Target end-user was defined based on the ability and readiness to use technology and self- or provider-use of technology.
The researchers identified 254 studies from the initial search and 52 additional studies from secondary sources (references within studies). After de-duplication and screening, full texts of 79 studies were reviewed, and 44 were included for analysis.
These included commentaries, quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method studies, reviews, randomized controlled trials, future research, and interventions.
Quantitative studies assessed digital technologies relative to conventional methods for nutrition data acquisition. Qualitative and mixed-method studies analyzed the experiences of end users as well as digital nutrition interventions.
Target populations in studies also included older adults with lung transplantation, prediabetes, diabetes, cognitive impairment, or increased body mass index (BMI).
Forty-one studies evaluated community-dwelling older individuals. About 51.1% were end-users with self-use of technology. Thirty-one studies used software applications to assess, track, and monitor health outcomes, including dietary intake, among older adults. Besides, some studies used sensors and other devices.
Software applications were accessed using tablet computers in 21 studies and smartphones or mobile devices in seven. One study assessed how assistive technologies (robots and mobile devices/home-based sensors) could overcome sarcopenia in aging.
Most studies investigated several areas of nutrition, such as dietary intake/quality, counseling, nutrition assessment, monitoring, and tracking.
Multiple studies addressed how technology could help maintain older adults’ independence. Five studies relied on technology to improve the nutritional status of older adults with malnutrition and those at risk.
A few studies described tailored meals to improve nutrition. Other studies assessed how technology could examine/track diet quality, intake, and adherence.
Taken together, the authors reviewed available evidence on the use of technologies to support the nutrition of older adults. Software applications were the most predominately used technology. However, there was a lack of standardized software for older adults.
Although most studies did not explicitly specify internet usage, it was pervasive. Of note, only half of the end users engaged in self-use of technology.
Moreover, although studies from the past 21 years were analyzed, 86% were conducted between 2016 and 2020, underscoring that research on nutrition, geriatrics, and technology is relatively new.
Overall, the findings suggest that research on the use of technology by older adults for nutrition is in its infancy, and additional studies are necessary to expand the knowledge base.