Lisa at Belmont CoA 20190125_141319-1.jpg

“Ask for 3” RecycleHealth visits the Belmont Senior Center

The Council on Aging is charged with advocating on behalf of older adults in Belmont. We collaborate with other town departments and committees as well as community service providers to enhance the quality of life for seniors ... promoting and implementing services and programs that enhance their general well-being.

With a Mission Statement like that, it’s no wonder the Belmont, MA Council on Aging (COA) reached out to Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM about using RecycleHealth activity trackers to help increase the health and fitness of their senior population.

Lisa worked with Dana Leavitt, the Assistant Director at the Belmont COA, to develop timely advice. Since it was before the holidays, her message was:

If family or friends ask you for a suggestion for a holiday gift, try the “Ask for 3” plan:

1) I'd like a Fitbit

2) I'd like you to help me set it up

3) I'd like you to take a walk with me

The rest of the announcement for Lisa’s workshop, Fitbits, Fitness, and RecycleHealth, was:

Activity trackers like Fitbits can be helpful for increasing fitness. Learn about tracking your steps and increasing your activity.

When we meet on January 25, we'll talk about how this worked, or come if you want to learn about activity trackers. We'll also talk about ways to stay fit even when it is cold or snowing. Finally, Lisa will tell you about RecycleHealth, the non-profit she started, that collected over 4,000 activity trackers for underserved populations, including veterans with PTSD, lower income older adults, intellectually disabled adults, and others. Lisa was recently recognized by AARP for her work. If you or your family have trackers sitting in junk drawers, please bring them with you for RecycleHealth.

Dr. Gualtieri with the seniors at Belmont Senior Center.

Dr. Gualtieri with the seniors at Belmont Senior Center.

When Lisa arrived at the Belmont COA center, she was thrilled by how happy people were to see her and share their tracker stories. Lisa provided suggestions about how best to use the devices to actually increase physical activity. “Think in terms of small changes,” was the core of the advice. This was especially relevant as Massachusetts had recently had a snowstorm - a bad weather event that meant many were cooped up inside for days at a time. Lisa also provided FitBits to the people who hadn’t received them as presents, per her Ask for 3 plan, and the instructions on how to set them up.

Overall, the two dozen seniors at Belmont COA were curious about trackers. Questions for Lisa were part of what made those sessions a “success” and included 1) which model FitBit is on my wrist? 2) should I worry about surveillance? 3) what does "in the cloud" mean? 4) how can I fix or replace my broken band? 5) why don't I get steps when I push a shopping cart? Lisa stayed until she knew the seniors felt confident about their new trackers and the Fitbit app on their phones. “At RecycleHealth, we help people increase their health and fitness through trackers, and increase their digital literacy skills and self-efficacy through our high-touch approach,” Lisa comments.

Lisa’s time at the Belmont COA center, though only totaling an hour, reinforced what she already believed from previous experiences distributing trackers to underserved populations: nothing can compete with a high-touch approach. In a technological age, with new innovations and advances coming out monthly with promises to transform health, it’s easy to overlook the barriers that exist to using new technology. It doesn’t matter how amazing the tech is. If no one uses it, then it can do no good. Health technology is still, ultimately, about the humans who are using it.

By spending time with small groups of seniors, answering questions, assisting with the tracker set up and use, Lisa brought the “human” back into something that’s generally considered a techy new gadget for tracking steps. Lisa’s high-touch approach is what makes the difference between adoption and use, and throwing the tracker in a junk drawer the second someone gets home.

Though of course, Lisa wants to see these efforts brought to life on a much larger scale, for her, nothing can compare to the personal experience of going to a small group of individuals and helping them one-on-one. Those actions will always have meaning.

“I plan on returning to the Belmont COA soon,” Lisa says. “Not only to bring more trackers for new people, but to see how the original group is doing with the trackers I gave them. This time, I might have questions for them!”