Guest Blog: 5 Principles for Designing Delightful Digital Experiences for Seniors

1yob0vag9wywilhvdpp2ylqKaye Mao, a fourth-year student in the Interaction Design program is completing her independent thesis entitled ‘Exploratory use, and learning of, mobile touch-based technologies’ (title subject to change) with the Centre. She is interested in how we learn to use new technologies, specifically mobile touch screen technologies.

Kaye’s guest blog for this month, 5 Principles for Designing Delightful Digital Experiences for Seniors, discusses some of the barriers older adults experience when using new technology. She also shares five design principles from her research that guided her “in designing delightful digital experiences for seniors aged 60+”.

To read Kaye’s blog click on the link below:
5 Principles for Designing Delightful Digital Experiences for Seniors


Combating Social Isolation During the Holiday Season

imagesAs a previous Aging Matters blog discussed, the holiday season may be difficult for some older adults who are experiencing social isolation. There are many contributing factors that place an older adult at risk for loneliness and social isolation. According to the McMaster Aging Portal; “Older adults are at increased risk of being socially isolated or lonely. By the time people reach their 80s, the majority live on their own, mostly because of widowhood. This is particularly the case for older women who are more likely to be widowed than older men. Older people’s social networks often get smaller for other reasons as well – children may have moved away, along with grandchildren, and aging siblings and friends may have died. Loneliness is also prevalent among older adults. One in five Canadians aged 65 or older indicated that they felt lonely some of the time or often in a recent study. The proportion is even higher among those 85 years or older – 25% of individuals in that age bracket felt lonely some of the time or often. Living alone, health problems and disability, sensory impairment such as hearing loss, and major life events such as loss of a spouse have all been identified as risk factors for social isolation and loneliness.”

Fortunately, there are many community campaigns available worldwide to ensure that older adults are not alone during the holidays. One example is the Community Christmas project which believes that ‘no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be’. The project provides resources and support for those who wish to provide companionship for older adults on Christmas Day.

Studies have shown that older adults who use technology feel less lonely. Technology provides individuals with the tools to communicate and engage with family and friends who may live far away. Social websites such as strive to provide a ‘positive and safe community’ for older adults to engage with others.

The Centre for Elder Research wishes everyone a happy holiday season and all the best in the new year!

Aging in Place: Optimizing Health Outcomes through Technology, Design and Social Inclusion

itsawrapOn October 27th 2016, the Centre for Elder Research hosted a symposium to celebrate the end of a successful 6-year, $2.3 million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The grant, titled, Aging in Place: Optimizing Health Outcomes through Technology, Design and Social Inclusion explored how businesses and service providers could design their services/products/process to better meet the needs of older adults aging in place.

The It’s a Wrap! symposium highlighted the research conducted by the Centre in collaboration with 14 small- and medium-sized businesses and explored some emerging trends in the area with talks from 5 professionals who shared their insights into how technology supports aging in place.

Keynote speaker Alex Mihailidis, PhD., P.Eng., the Scientific Director of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, spoke about disruptive technology and its role in changing the current landscape of innovation. Alex described a challenging paradox that we are currently facing in Canada: the support needs of our growing, aging population are increasing, but the technological tools we have available to help us are underused by older adults because either they don’t support their needs, they are too expensive, they are not user-friendly, or, as in the case of some assistive devices, they are viewed as stigmatizing. Alex says we need to force new ways of thinking about technology and design; this is where the disruptive innovation (paired with a little bit of inspiration) comes into play. Some new technologies that are currently pushing that boundary include smart homes, driverless cars, advances in robotics and big data. Each of these new technologies has the potential to be adapted and/or customized to support a user’s unique needs and will certainly revolutionize the current innovation landscape. It’s pretty cool to think about what exciting things we’ll be able to do with technology in the coming years!

Robyn Kalda, a specialist in the use of technology for health promotion, focused on how we can use new technologies in health-promoting ways. Robyn pointed out that a large component of health promotion is feeling in control of health and lifestyle changes. From the perspective of technology, it is important to consider when devices (like the ever-popular ‘wearables’ for example) exist to give people control over their health versus when they are used to control people and their behaviours. This distinction has implications for the outcomes of health promotion strategies involving technology; we need to make sure the technology is having the right sort of impact on the user. The take away message from Robyn’s talk was when using technology for health promotion, either formally or even in your own life, think about:

1. Who was this technology designed for (i.e. is accessible for everyone?)
2. What is the evidence that it’s any good?
3. Does it give you control over your health/behaviour or does it take control away?

Something to think about before you buy that Fitbit for someone on your holiday shopping list…

John Helliker, the Director of Sheridan’s Screen Industries Research and Training Centre (SIRT) spoke more specifically about the opportunities for individual and social change using virtual and augmented reality technology. These technologies can have various applications in clinical and assistive living settings. Virtual reality allows the person interacting with it to have an immersive, first person perspective and experience a different reality, while augmented reality can enhance our understanding, and engagement with, the world around us by allowing us to access additional information or content. Think about the possibilities for using virtual or augmented reality to help people manage anxiety, phobias, depression or symptoms of dementia. Even more compellingly, virtual reality can also help to build empathy in friends, family, caregivers and health team members for individuals living with mental health issues or dementia by allowing them to experience first-hand these types of conditions. John believes that “the world is our oyster right now” with the development and use of this technology. You may have seen some people in your neighbourhood playing Pokemon Go in the last 6 months or so. Pokemon Go is a very successful example of augmented reality being used (in game form) by the general public.

Dr. Kelly Murphy, a Psychologist at Baycrest Health Services talked about a unique use of a technology more familiar and accessible to us all, the web-based app. Kelly walked attendees through the journey her team went through to develop and test a new app called ArtOnTheBrain. From the research literature, the Baycrest team knew that enjoyable and meaningful recreation improves well-being, and that there is something special about participation in the arts. It can often provide more holistic benefits than other recreation and leisure pursuits, and this is something that we’ve seen in our research at the Centre as well. So, ArtOnTheBrain was developed to provide an art-based experience that is user-led and involves learning about works of art and developing a dialogue with others. The goal, Kelly explained, was to develop a tool that could be part of a wider health toolkit for older adults. This app could promote social, emotional and spiritual well-being, and increases access to meaningful recreation, while still being accessible and sustainable and using technology that most people already have in their homes.

Mary Jane Carroll, a professor from Sheridan’s Bachelor of Interior Design program focused on the reality facing many older adults who are hoping to age in place, and that is the need for home modifications and the affordability of these renovations and assistive technologies. The greatest culprits? The majority of renovation costs come from remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms, widening hallways and making the front access point of the house more accessible.

Working with her students, Mary Jane has been running a Home Assessment research project to:

  1. Assess the ability of current homes to support aging in place and
  2. Explore the ways that design can help to provide affordable, practical solutions to combat the high cost of home modifications and accessible technologies.

Before you start that next renovation in your home or the home of a loved one, consider ways to support aging in place through your design choices – accessible homes benefit everyone who lives in them.

There you have it, a summary of the symposium, in case you missed it! While ‘it’s a wrap’ on this particular funding program, the Centre is currently engaged in multiple projects that build on the success of this grant to continue to conduct innovative, Lab to Life® research. Stay tuned to keep learning about our work, and thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the Aging in Place grant!

Guest Blog: Considering dignity in design – starting the conversation about dignified technologies for older adults


By Julie Buelow & Lia Tsotsos

Have you been to the doctor lately? How about a family member or close friend? What was the experience like? Did you feel like you were treated with dignity? Dignity means that you are worthy of honour and respect (as defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary), and in a medical sense, this means that a patient is treated with honour and respect regardless of their condition or current medical situation. Dignity is a key component of health care, and clinicians strive to provide it. It often extends to a patient’s family and friends as well.

Have you ever thought about your dignity when technology fails, like while using health care equipment or an app on your phone? Do you still feel respected if health care technology doesn’t quite work? What if your app fails while you’re monitoring your blood glucose levels at home? What if you can’t figure out how to take photos on your new smart phone? Is your dignity lessened if you become frustrated or upset? These are questions that we have begun to explore at the Centre in partnership with the Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design at Sheridan.

We know from research that technology can make the lives of older adults better. Even though it can be beneficial, adopting technology has been slower for older adults than their younger counterparts. Why? There are age-related barriers such as changes in mobility, but are their non-age related barriers related to the design of technology itself? Could it be that technologies are not designed in an especially dignified way?

Let’s take an example from the smartphone world. If you have low vision, you can compensate by changing the phone’s settings to make the text on the screen appear larger. The problem though is that others nearby can easily see what’s written on the screen. This reduces your privacy and alerts others that you have trouble seeing. Something intended to benefit you is also creating vulnerability.

With research conducted at the Centre, we are beginning to evaluate existing web-based health care tools in an effort to better understand how online systems might promote or compromise the dignity of the user. Our hope is that by involving older adults in this conversation (especially since they are often not included), we can begin to develop a way of talking about the role of dignity in the context of design – call it a vocabulary, or taxonomy if you will. By creating this common vocabulary, interdisciplinary teams of designers, programmers, marketers, field testers, researchers and end users can all speak the same language when considering how best to design and create innovative technologies for older adults.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how you consider the role of dignity and technology – write us a note at , and let us know what you think!


Julie Buelow is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College and Lia Tsotsos is the Principal Researcher at the Centre for Elder Research.