Older People

The social lives of older people living in Wingrove

Our project aims to explore how older people living in the Wingrove ward in Newcastle feel about their social lives, including their relationships with friends, family, neighbours and more informal contacts and connections.

An individual’s experiences and perceptions of their social lives and relationships can have an impact on other aspects of their lives, such as health and wellbeing. For example, older adults with weaker social ties are at greater risk of early death, ill health and poor wellbeing. Where people live can also play an important part in shaping relationships and interactions. Wingrove is a diverse area of Newcastle in terms of the age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics of residents. Around 10% of people living in Wingrove are aged 60 or over, and the average age of residents is around 30 years old.

We will adopt a locally embedded, participatory approach to exploring the complex issue of social interaction in later life. The project will begin with 20-30 interviews with older people (aged 60 and over) living in Wingrove, focusing on their social lives and interactions. We will then hold a series of co-design workshops with older people living in Wingrove and other stakeholders, researchers and developers. The specific focus of these workshops will be determined by the findings from thematic analysis of the interviews. The aim of the workshops will be to develop ideas about opportunities for innovative digital technologies to support, promote and/or capture social interaction in Wingrove.

Invisible Design

Invisible Design is a technique for generating insights and ideas with workshop participants in the early stages of concept development. It involves the creation of ambiguous films in which characters discuss a technology that is not directly shown. The technique builds on previous work in HCI on scenarios, persona, theatre, film and ambiguity. By not visibly showing the design on-screen – although it is still in the scene – the films provide opportunities to seed discussions about the experiences around a particular idea or design space without focusing on the physical form and exact functionality of the design. We have used the Invisible Design approach in a number of projects:

  • Smart Money was used in the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project to explore issues to do with sharing money with people you trust and don’t trust.
  • Panini (aka Hagels Bagels) was used to explore problems related to physical mobility and navigation for older people.
  • Biometric Daemon was used to elicit concerns about security and privacy in the context of biometric authentication technologies that hold sensitive personal information.

The concept and development of Invisible Design was developed in collaboration with Pam Briggs of PACT Lab at Northumbria University.

Lifelong Health and Wellbeing

Older people are accounting for an increasingly higher percentage of the UK’s population, with life expectancy rising at an unprecedented rate and predictions that by 2033, 25% of the population will be over 65 years old. The Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme was set up in order to meet the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented by the ageing population. It is led by the Medical Research Council on behalf of the Arts and Humanities, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences and Economic and Social Research Councils and provides a platform to fund and coordinate multidisciplinary research into ageing.

Among the project’s aims are:
• to target factors over the course of an individual’s life that may have a pronounced effect upon their health and wellbeing when they are older,
• to identify and develop effective interventions that lead to improved health and quality of life as people grow older,
• to inform the development of services and technologies to support independent living,
• to increase capacity and capability in ageing-relevant research.

Newcastle’s role concerns mental wellbeing in later life. We have developed a Wearable Acoustic Monitor, which measures the wearer’s level of social interaction. The premise of the design is that socialising with people is a vital aspect of our emotional wellbeing, while equally our emotional wellbeing can have an impact upon the degree to which we wish to socialise. For people with depression or other illnesses that may cause them to engage less with other people either voluntarily or involuntarily, monitoring social interaction can therefore be a good indicator of that person’s emotional wellbeing.

See also: Wearable Acoustic Monitor

Date: Jan 2012 – Aug 2013
Funding: MRC: Medical Research Council £247,327
Researchers: John O’Brien – Institute for Ageing & Health (PI),  Peter Gallagher, and Nicole Ferrier – Institute of Neuroscience, Jeff Neasham, and Satnam Dlay – Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering (CIs).  Patrick Olivier (Coll). Roisin McNaney, Bin GaoCas Ladha, Karim Ladha

UXCodes: Decoding User Experience Qualities

User Experience (UX) is a complex but promising concept in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). More research is now being focused on Quality of Experience (QoE), and there are calls for the development of more natural, easy-to-use interfaces and new ways for people to interact with technology.

The aim of this project is to identify key “UXCodes”, and in particular to follow a humanistic, dialogical approach to decoding the UX qualities for a better ICT-enabled life for older people. The key premise of the project is that people act on the basis of social relationships, which influence the quality of an experience with technology. The insights we gain will be translated into practical guidance for designers and generalised by applying experience-centred theories and research methodologies. We apply the pattern approach to UX, as it is a valuable way to preserve knowledge for practitioners in future projects and to optimise technological innovation and opportunity for older people to enrich their experiences with and through technology.

More specific aims of the project are:

  • To identify the main characteristics and qualities that make a user’s experience with digital technologies memorable, in particular for older people,
  • To improve the understanding of the main strategies people use when structuring their experiences for others,
  • To increase knowledge of how UX is changing over time and how the meaning of a recounted experience changes as a function of repeated retellings,
  • To optimise the user-designer relationship by building on the concept of empathy and adapting collaborative and participatory design methodologies.

Currently, several user studies focusing on the above objectives are underway. More details can be found on: http://obrist.info/wp/uxcodes/

Date: October 2011 – September 2013

Funding: European Commission Funded under the 7th Framework Programme. £170,668

Researchers: Marianna Obrist (Marie Curie Fellow)Peter Wright (PI), Patrick Olivier (CI).

Tales of I

Tales of I is a installation developed in collaboration with an adult mental health and learning disability development unit. Many residents of the unit have chronic dementia, and the room is intended to help trigger pleasant memories. Tales of I consists of two bespoke pieces of furniture, a wall cabinet and a television cabinet. The wall cabinet holds seven small, themed, resin globes that encase colourful images and sculptures. Each globe has a RFID tag on its base. The television unit has a RFID reader in the top of it, so that when users place a globe on the television, it plays a short film relating to the theme of the globe.

There is also an “All About Me” aspect to the project, in that staff at the unit can create personal films for individual residents. We created this to be an extension of the existing staff practice of making books for each resident, which contain scanned photographs and details of the resident’s life. These are used to de-escalate situations when residents are upset, as they enable discussion of comforting, familiar aspects of residents’ lives.

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

See the entry for the Reminiscence Room on the SiDE website.


Digital Cheque Book

In the research stage of the “New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old” project, we conducted interviews with people aged eighty and upwards to understand the ways they managed their finances and any struggles they had with aspects of the current system.

A concern that continually came up was that the banks would stop allowing people to use cheques. Cheques were identified by many as an easy way to make payments, especially for those who cannot easily travel to withdraw money from the bank or are unable to use the internet to transfer it. Cheques give people a greater sense of security, as they have a designated payee and the stub is left behind as a record of what money has been paid out. Many people also felt that a cheque was more suitable than cash when giving monetary gifts.

Based on these interviews, we began exploring ways to better integrate traditional paper cheques with digital banking systems. We came up with the idea of writing cheques using a digital pen, which would record the details of the cheque and upon completion of it being written would send the information to an online payment service such as PayPal. This would then transfer the requested funds to the correct person. This allows for all the benefits of cheques, while at the same time being a cheaper and easier transaction for the bank.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project

Press Release: The Joy of Cheques



Secure PIN Reminder

While meant to increase security, complex PIN and password systems routinely force people to compromise sensitive information. While conducting research for the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project, many interviewees said that, though they were aware of the security risk, they kept written records of PINs and passwords due to difficulty remembering them.

The Biometric Daemon is a personal device to securely remind users of their PINs. It registers the traits of its owner, such as gait (through use of an accelerometer), and fingerprints. As interviewees often spoke of remembering the “patterns” of their PINs and passwords rather than the numbers and words themselves, the device also uses a physical password, which the user inputs using a series of clockwise and anticlockwise turns, recognised by a gyroscope. Through recognising the gait, then the physical password, and finally the fingerprint of its owner, the device offers two hints and then the entirety of up to four passwords and PINs. Because the Biometric Daemon will only work for one person, it provides users with a means of reminding themselves of security information without compromising it.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

SALT: Designing Scalable Assistive Technologies and Services

Currently, health and social care institutions struggle to meet the demands of the ageing population due to insufficient capacity and resources. The potential of new technology to assist older people and promote independent healthy living is huge. However, it is hindered by issues relating to, for example, cost, lack of technological skills among the older population, and difficulties in making people aware of what is available. This project aims to address some of these challenges and investigate opportunities for creating and promoting scalable assistive technology within economic and business models. It brings together multidisciplinary academics, businesses, health and social care professionals, third sector organisations and user representatives, as well as collaborating closely with SiDE.

The SALT project is split into seven distinct but interrelated work packages, two of which are managed by researchers within the Digital Interaction group. Work package 4, or “User Uptake”, focuses on the attitudes of older people towards assistive technology, providing a context within which the potential growth and usability of assistive technology can be maximised. Researchers will conduct interviews to assess the extent to which older people currently use or do not use available assistive technology, and the perception of how much or little it is needed among its intended users. Work package 5, or “User-Centred Design”, applies the findings of work package 4 and other branches of the project during design workshops for new assistive technology, particularly focusing on digital technology. It will use a range of experience-centred design techniques to create working prototypes in order to assess which participatory design methods are most appropriate in the development of assistive technology.

Press release: North East leads the way in planning for an ageing population

Date: Mar 2011 – Feb 2014

Funding: TSB: £ 1,083,831

Researchers: Feng Li – Business School (PI), Patrick Olivier, Peter Wright (CIs). Katie Brittain – IHS, Louise Robinson – IHS/IAH, Tracy Finch – IHS, Lynne Corner – IAH, Peter Gore – IAH, Rob Wilson – Business School.

Collaborators:  RTC North, Critical Data Ltd, DocoboLtd, ADL SmartcareLtd, Years Ahead, CybermoorServices Ltd, Age Concern Newcastle, Manus Neurodynamica Ltd, Limbs Alive Ltd, IntraHealthLtd.

Personhood in Dementia

Jewellery is inherently connected to the body: as a symbol of self, as a witness to our experiences, as a conduit to transport us to other times, places and people and because it signifies aspects of identity and inter-personal relationships. The role of the body becomes acute in dementia, being something that can represent identity when other means, such as speech, have dissolved. Therefore there is potential for jewellery to bring significant benefits to someone with dementia. It could make a profound difference to a dementia sufferer’s internal and external representation of self, and significantly benefit the maintenance of personhood.

We have worked with individuals living with mild dementia and their close family members to make personalised wearable sensors that are enjoyable and meaningful for the wearer, echoing elements of their life stories and treasured relationships and experiences. We hope that the pieces will aid an empathic engagement with people who are living with memory loss, as well as being tangible aids for people with dementia in their recollections of their self and their past experiences.

See also: Digital Jewellery

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

Press release: Making digital personal: bringing jewellery into the technological age

Cueing for Swallowing in Parkinson’s

This cueing device has been developed as a way to behaviourally manage drooling, which is commonly symptomatic of Parkinson’s Disease. The device was developed through a participatory design process, taking into account the needs of people with Parkinson’s Disease to ensure that the result was something they would want to wear.

Existing cueing devices give auditory or visual cues and can therefore draw unwanted attention, as well as being unsuitable for visual- or hearing-impaired users. Other issues with previous devices include the difficulties that could be presented to users with impaired motor function by an operating switch or the need to change the battery. With this in mind, the device we have developed resembles a wristwatch and gives a vibrating cue so as to minimise attention drawn to the wearer. In addition the device turns on and off automatically, with motion sensors recognising whether it is in use, so that the wearer does not have to operate any buttons or switches.

We are currently in the process of trialling the device with thirty NHS patients.

Part of the Cueing Technology for Parkinson’s project.