When was the last time your GP or practice nurse recommended a good health app? Chances are never, if you’re aged 60-plus. The NHS Long Term Plan advises doctors to encourage patients to use apps to help manage their conditions – yet the older the patient, the less forthcoming the recommendation. A study by the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) found that GPs had mentioned apps to just 2% of over-65s – despite 52% saying they would embrace digital health tech.
‘There are assumptions being made by GPs that older patients have less digital literacy,’ says Dr Tom Micklewright, GP and ORCHA clinical director. ‘But during the pandemic, GPs were surprised that many patients aged 80-plus were happy to upload photos and do video consultations. Apps can help with lifestyle management and reduce the need to see a GP.’
Here are our favourites; all are on ORCHA’s approved list and available in the App Store (Apple/iOS) and Google Play (Android).
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1. Best app for pill reminders
When Omri and Rotem Shor’s diabetic father accidentally took an extra dose of insulin
and ended up in hospital in 2012, they created
this app to help people keep track of which medications they’d taken and when. He pulled through, and now seven million people around the world use the Medisafe app. It sends reminder notifications to take your pills, lets you know when you need to order another prescription, and has 30,000 severe drug interaction warnings. It can also link with a loved one who will receive confirmation that you have taken your meds.
Free. Android and iOS
2. Best app for anxiety and depression
Feeling Good: Mental Health
This NHS-accredited app uses Positive Mental Training, a mix of cognitive behavioural therapy and Olympic mindset techniques to change your thinking patterns, generate positive feelings and build resilience. Created by Scottish GP Dr Alastair Dobbin and psychotherapist Dr Sheila Ross, it has 12 mental health audio tracks that with repeated use can calm and lift your mood. The programme has been used by 75,000 UK patients to help with depression and anxiety. Alongside visualisation and mindfulness, positive words are inserted within audio tracks to prime your brain.
Free access to several tracks or £21.99 one-off all-access payment. Android and iOS.
3. Best app for insomnia
Unlike other sleep apps, Pzizz doesn’t ask you to change your behaviour or keep
a sleep diary – you just lie back and listen.
The app quietens your mind with ‘dreamscape sessions’, which are a mix of music, narration and sound effects informed by the emerging field of psychoacoustics (the brain’s perception of sound and its physiological effects).
There is even a customisable Nap Module, aimed at getting rid of that groggy feeling
and improving energy levels, with specially designed nap narrations. In a clinical trial of Pzizz by Indiana State University, 30 out of 35 poor sleepers became good sleepers after three weeks. Every time you listen the session is different to maintain effectiveness, using tools such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
Free or from £7.99 a month for premium. Android and iOS.
4. Best app for chronic pain
An estimated 38% of UK adults are
in pain daily. This app teaches you the latest science: that the brain and central nervous system are more involved in pain than once thought. Then it uses 100 exercises to retrain the brain to reduce the catastrophising tendency and calm a hypersensitive system.
Free for some features or £45.51 for a year. Android and iOS.
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5. Best for mole scanning
Miiskin Skin Tracker
With 100,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the UK annually and 48% of those occurring in people over 75, this dermatology app could prove a lifesaver. If you have lots of moles or they’re in hard-to-see areas, Miiskin can keep track. Photograph single moles then use side-by-side pictures to analyse their size, shape and growth over time. A nifty feature is the full-body scan, where you place your phone upright on a table while the camera captures every mark – great for mapping your back. If any changes are found, visit your GP.
Free for basic version, or £23.49 a year for premium features (including body scan). Android and iOS.
6. Best for fitness
If you’re new to apps, the simplicity of Google Fit will appeal. It does a few basic things very well. It tracks activity via ‘jiggle’ sensors on your phone, allowing you to set a daily target. Google worked with the American Heart Association to create a ‘heart points’ system – you win one heart per minute of intense activity. Scoring 150 heart points a week can help you live longer. By holding your finger over your phone’s camera, the app checks heart rate.
Free. Android and iOS.
7. Best for checking symptoms
Created by doctors, this free symptom checker has 10 million users and for good reason. A series of simple questions are asked about your symptoms (for example, where is the pain? How long have you had it?) before the app’s AI assesses your answers against its medical dictionary of thousands of disorders. Within seconds it provides a personalised report with possible medical conditions, plus information on treatment and prevention.
Free. Android and iOS.
8. Best for bladder health
Used by 55,000 people a month, Squeezy was designed by NHS physiotherapists specialising in men and women’s bladder and bowel health. It provides a gender-specific exercise plan with visual guides to explain pelvic squeezes. A daily target, reminders, and a bladder diary all help. Strengthening the pelvic floor has been proven to help stop bladder and bowel incontinence; 78% of users report improvements.
£2.99. Android and iOS.
Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Saga Magazine
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