Questioning the Impact of Wearable Tech on People with Rheumatoid Arthritis

August 5, 2022 (Vancouver) – Using trackers or wearables, such as Fitbits, can help people with rheumatoid arthritis to be more physically active. However, according to a new Arthritis Research Canada study, there are questions about potentially negative impacts, such as affecting self-esteem and creating tension between patients and their health care providers.  

The research team specifically considered an important question: are there moral issues with using wearables to manage rheumatoid arthritis?

Participants compared their tracked performance with what they considered to be “good” behaviour (self-control, independence, and productivity). This impacted their self-esteem, as well as the relationship with their physiotherapist because they felt they had to defend why they fell short of fitness goals.

“Wearables can help to empower people with arthritis to reach their physical activity goals,” said Dr. Jenny Leese, a visiting post-doctoral research fellow at Arthritis Research Canada. “They also have the potential to become a burden for people dealing with symptoms of chronic illness.”  

Some participants in the study reported a confidence boost and found that using a wearable helped them achieve their goals, like daily step counts and sitting less. However, those who were unable to meet their daily goals often felt guilty.

These findings add to a body of research focusing on the lived experience of people with chronic illness. Arthritis can impact a person’s physical and/or mental ability to exercise or meet goals regardless of reminders. Programs that place importance on independence and productivity can be disruptive to people living with chronic illness and even impact their feelings of self-worth.

“It is not always a matter of motivation when it comes to exercise for people with arthritis,” said Dr. Linda Li, senior scientist at Arthritis Research Canada. “We need to understand the benefits and risks of using wearables in people with arthritis to inform if and how these devices can be incorporated into a person’s overall care plan.”

To learn more about this research, please click here.  


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Arthritis Research Canada is the largest clinical arthritis research institution in North America. Our mission is to transform the lives of people living with arthritis through research and engagement. Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific director, Dr. Diane Lacaille is leading a team of over 100 researchers, trainees and staff whose world recognized research is creating a future where people living with arthritis are empowered to triumph over pain and disability. Arthritis Research Canada is conducting research across Canada in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec and is affiliated with five major universities: University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, Université Laval, and McGill University. Arthritis Research Canada is leading research aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis, new and better treatment, and improved quality of life.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Meeka Marsolais
Marketing and Communications Officer
604-207-4010 or mmarsolais@arthritisresearch.ca

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