Healthy Ageing with an online coach
It turns out older people can improve their lifestyle and adopt healthier behaviours with the support of an online coach. This way they can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia. This is reported by an international group of researchers, led by Amsterdam University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, in The Lancet Digital Health today.
In the ‘Healthy Ageing Through Internet Counselling in the Elderly’ (HATICE) project, 2724 persons over 65 years with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia participated. These participants were from The Netherlands, Finland and France. Half of the participants, the treatment group, was in contact with a coach via the Internet. On a specifically developed website, they could set goals to improve their health and monitor their own progress towards a healthier lifestyle. The focus for improvement was on blood pressure, physical inactivity, overweight, smoking and high cholesterol. The other half, the control group, received access to a website with general health information, without a coach.
After 18 months, 90% of the treatment group set one or more goals related to their lifestyle, with the support of their coach. The researchers investigated the effect on a composite measure for cardiovascular disease risk, including blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol. The research shows that the treatment group had a modest, but significant improvement compared to the control group. This effect was largest in those participants who were most active on the website: for each additional goal set, the score representing the risk of cardiovascular disease improved.
These results are promising, but the researchers stress that prevention requires a long-term effort. Lead investigator Dr. Edo Richard: ‘Although the magnitude of the effect is relatively small, with this type of approach it takes time and larger effects are more likely in people with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or those with less access to health care, such as people in low- and middle-income countries, but also people with low social advantage in Europe’.
The research also shows, according to co-lead investigator Dr. Eric Moll van Charante, that modern technology in the form of self-management with an online coach can be a valuable addition to regular health care, also in older persons. ’The results invite testing this type of intervention on a larger scale to confirm whether the beneficial effects we see are sustainable over time and eventually lead to fewer heart attacks, strokes and dementia in the long term’.