Older adults’ experiences with using wearable devices: Qualitative systematic review and meta-synthesis

Kevin Moore, Emma O'Shea, Lorna Kenny, John Barton, Salvatore Tedesco, Marco Sica, Colum Crowe, Antti Alamaki, Joan Condell, Anna Nordstrom, Suzanne Timmons

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60 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Older adults may use wearable devices for various reasons, ranging from monitoring clinically relevant health metrics or detecting falls to monitoring physical activity. Little is known about how this population engages with wearable devices, and no qualitative synthesis exists to describe their shared experiences with long-term use. Objective: This study aims to synthesize qualitative studies of user experience after a multi-day trial with a wearable device to understand user experience and the factors that contribute to the acceptance and use of wearable devices. Methods: We conducted a systematic search in CINAHL, APA PsycINFO, PubMed, and Embase (2015-2020; English) with fixed search terms relating to older adults and wearable devices. A meta-synthesis methodology was used. We extracted themes from primary studies, identified key concepts, and applied reciprocal and refutational translation techniques; findings were synthesized into third-order interpretations, and finally, a “line-of-argument” was developed. Our overall goal was theory development, higher-level abstraction, and generalizability for making this group of qualitative findings more accessible. Results: In total, we reviewed 20 papers; 2 evaluated fall detection devices, 1 tested an ankle-worn step counter, and the remaining 17 tested activity trackers. The duration of wearing ranged from 3 days to 24 months. The views of 349 participants (age: range 51-94 years) were synthesized. Four key concepts were identified and outlined: motivation for device use, user characteristics (openness to engage and functional ability), integration into daily life, and device features. Motivation for device use is intrinsic and extrinsic, encompassing many aspects of the user experience, and appears to be as, if not more, important than the actual device features. To overcome usability barriers, an older adult must be motivated by the useful purpose of the device. A device that serves its intended purpose adds value to the user’s life. The user’s needs and the support structure around the device—aspects that are often overlooked—seem to play a crucial role in long-term adoption. Our “line-of-argument” model describes how motivation, ease of use, and device purpose determine whether a device is perceived to add value to the user’s life, which subsequently predicts whether the device will be integrated into the user’s life. Conclusions: The added value of a wearable device is the resulting balance of motivators (or lack thereof), device features (and their accuracy), ease of use, device purpose, and user experience. The added value contributes to the successful integration of the device into the daily life of the user. Useful device features alone do not lead to continued use. A support structure should be placed around the user to foster motivation, encourage peer engagement, and adapt to the user’s preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23832
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 3 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This review was cofunded by the European Regional Development Fund under Ireland’s European Structural and Investment Fund Programme 2014-2020. This work was supported in part by the Interreg Norther Periphery and Artic Programme funded project SENDoc (Smart sENsor Devices fOr rehabilitation and Connected health). Aspects of this publication were supported by Enterprise Ireland and Abbvie Inc under grant IP 2017 0625.

Publisher Copyright:
©Kevin Moore, Emma O'Shea, Lorna Kenny, John Barton, Salvatore Tedesco, Marco Sica, Colum Crowe, Antti Alamäki, Joan Condell, Anna Nordström, Suzanne Timmons.


  • acceptance
  • adherence
  • wearable device
  • older adult
  • meta-synthesis
  • qualitative review
  • Mobile phone
  • Acceptance
  • Wearable device
  • Older adult
  • Meta-synthesis
  • Adherence
  • Qualitative review
  • Digital health


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