Figure 1: Cultural probes as used in (a) the Nightingale Project by Quigley & Risborg (2003 ), (b) the dependability study by Crabtree et al. (2002) and (c) the fuzzy felt board and icons used by Rode et al. (2004) in their domestic appliance study. 11 icon

Figure 1: Cultural probes as used in (a) the Nightingale Project by Quigley & Risborg (2003 ), (b) the dependability study by Crabtree et al. (2002) and (c) the fuzzy felt board and icons used by Rode et al. (2004) in their domestic appliance study. 11

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MemoryLane: An Intelligent Mobile Companion for Elderly Users

A report submitted in consideration

for the confirmation of PhD status

Submitted by: Sheila Mc Carthy

Supervisors: Dr. Heather Sayers, Prof. Paul Mc Kevitt

& Prof. Mike McTear

July 2007

Intelligent Systems Research Centre

School of Computing and Intelligent Systems

Faculty of Engineering

Magee Campus



1 Introduction 1

2 Background and Related Research 2

3 Research Plan 16

4 Preliminary Work 25

5 Conclusion 31

References 32

Appendix 1 - Thesis Outline 39

Appendix 2 - Publications 40

Appendix 3 – Gantt Chart 42


Figure 1: Cultural probes as used in (a) the Nightingale Project by Quigley & Risborg (2003 ), (b) the dependability study by Crabtree et al. (2002) and (c) the fuzzy felt board and icons used by Rode et al. (2004) in their domestic appliance study. 11

^ Figure 2: The Memory Scrapbook as implemented by Wyche et al. (2006) in their ethnographical research studies investigating ageing and housework. 12

Figure 3: A high level abstraction of MemoryLane 19

Figure 4: MemoryLane Architecture 20

Figure 5: The Dell Axim X51v PDA and an Impression of the Proposed MemoryLane Prototype 22

Figure 6: Example interaction with MemoryLane 24

Figure 7: Participant Interacting with PDA 26

Figure 8: Levels of technical knowledge contrasted with the social interaction patterns of elderly participants 28

Figure 9: Occupational backgrounds of elderly participants contrasted with their perceived computing ability 29


^ TABLE 1: EXAMPLE CATEGORIES AND FIELDS..………………………………..….……………………20



The ageing population is dramatically increasing, especially in the more economically developed countries of the world. According to the 2001 census (Directgov, 2006) the UK now has more people aged over 60 than under 16 years. 1.1 million people are now aged over 85, and by 2050 the number of centenarians is expected to have increased eighteen times (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2002).

It is well accepted that with age there is often an associated cognitive decline, which varies among individuals, affecting abilities such as memory and planning. For example, severe cognitive decline in the form of dementia currently affects 1 in 20 over the age of 65, 1 in 5 over the age of 80, and over 750,000 people in the UK (Alzheimers Society, 2006). Cognitive decline is an inherent part of the natural ageing process ensuring that the numbers of sufferers increase steadily as the ageing population grows. Catering for such a diverse sector requires detailed analysis.

Reminiscence plays an important role in the lives of ageing people; many perfect the art of storytelling and enjoy its social benefits. The telling of stories of past events and experiences defines family identities and is an integral part of most cultures. Losing the ability to recollect past memories is not only disadvantageous, but can prove quite detrimental, especially to many older people. Ethnographical studies rely on participants’ powers of recall to successfully conduct their research, and often bear witness to the intangibility of precious memories.

Considerable research is being conducted into how technology can best serve and assist the elderly. Pervasive environments (smart homes with smart appliances) are being developed to assist ageing users remain living independently in their own homes while maintaining a high quality of life. This, in turn, minimises the emotional and financial strain often caused by nursing home accommodation. Memory prompts have been developed to remind users to perform imminent activities and the prospect of personal artificial companions has often been proposed.

Mobile technology is commonplace and offers the potential to be harnessed as a tool to assist many of these ageing people. However, diminutive devices often perplex the aged and many usability problems exist. Consequently this potential is very often not maximised.


1.1Aims & Objectives

The aim of this research is to develop a usable, mobile, intelligent multimodal companion for elderly users. Due to the known benefits of reminiscence among the elderly, the objective of the companion will be to assist the elderly in recalling their own past life events and memories as they experience the natural cognitive declines associated with the ageing process. The application will be entitled MemoryLane and will be deployed on a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) which will equip users with the ability to re-live bygone days, and the portability to relay them to others. The application will also address the usability problems encountered by the elderly when using mobile devices.

Section 2 of the report investigates a background to the research and discusses related research. Section 3 describes the research plan, the proposed methodology and system design of MemoryLane. Section 4 documents the results from preliminary work and finally, Section 5 concludes the report. There are three appendices to the report which contain the subsequent thesis outline (Appendix 1), initial publications and targeted conferences and journals (Appendix 2), and a Gantt Chart in Appendix 3 visually illustrates the project timeframe.

2Background and Related Research

The focus of this research is underpinned by several distinct research areas including gerontechnology, HCI, usability studies, memory, reminiscence, life-caching, pervasive computing, mobile companions, ethnography, storytelling, artificial intelligence and multimodality. The following sub sections provide a background to each area along with a comparison to related work within the field.


Due to the increasing numbers of the elderly population they have become the focus of much research designed to improve, prolong and enhance their lives. Gerontology is the study of elderly people and of the social, psychological and biological aspects of the ageing process itself, as distinct from the term Geriatrics, the study of the diseases which afflict the elderly. Gerontechnology, the merger between gerontology and technology is a newer genus, concerning itself with the utilisation of technological advancements to improve the health, mobility, communication, leisure and environment of elderly people, effectively allowing them to remain living independently in their own homes for longer. Stanley and Cheek (2003) discuss what is understood by the ‘well-being’ of the elderly in their comprehensive literature review.

Therefore gerontechnology is heavily concerned with the ways in which ageing people interact with computers and technology, and substantial research is being conducted in this area. Willis (1996) discusses cognitive competence in elderly persons, while Melenhorst et al. (2001) investigated the use of communication technologies by elderly people and explored their perceived and expected benefits. Fisk and Rogers (2002) discuss how psychological science might assist with the issues of age-related usability, and Van Gerven (2006) formulates recommendations for designing computer-based training materials aimed at elderly learners. In a recent paper, Zajicek (2006) reflects upon established HCI research processes and identifies certain areas in which this type of research differs significantly from other research disciplines. Zajicek also assesses the efficacy of the standard approaches to research dissemination for usage as design guidelines and unveils some inconsistencies regarding the manner in which research results are currently distributed. Zajicek proposes the utilisation of Alexandrian patterns as a viable means of both research dissemination and the reinforcement of the structure of HCI knowledge in general.

Many studies are being conducted into the design of domestic pervasive systems which address the problems of providing assistance to elderly people living alone (Chamberlain & Kalawsky, 2004; Helal et al., 2003) and numerous mobile and pervasive projects are underway. Pervasive environments designed to assist older people to live independently and maintain a high quality of life have been developed (Davis, 2003; Helal, 2004b). Robotic assistance is also employed (Carnegie Mellon News, 2003) and further discussed by Bahadori et al. (2004). CogKnow is a European Union funded, multi-disciplinary research project (CogKnow, 2006). The project addresses problems faced by elderly people with early signs of dementia. Search engines have been specifically designed for elderly users (Aula & Kaki, 2006), and many pervasive gadgets are evident, including a meal preparation system (Helal, 2004a), a self monitoring teapot (AARP, 2005) and a hand held personal home assistant capable of controlling a range of electronic devices in the home (Burmester et al., 1997).

Digital Family Portraits (Mynatt et al., 2001) were developed to augment the social problems encountered when elderly adults wished to remain living independently, and often alone, in their own accommodation. Extended family members are able to view the status of an elderly relative via the digital portrait. The portrait changes daily, reflecting everything from general activity to the weather. The portrait attempts to mimic the natural observations typical of a neighbour to the elderly person.

The potential intrusiveness of aware-home, or ‘smart technologies’ is often questioned, no less so than by the elderly. A study conducted by Melenhorst et al. (2004) centred on the elderly’s opinions regarding living in a ‘smart home’ and investigated the elderly’s fear of intrusion, invasion of privacy and their thoughts on the inherent security problems.

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