Alleviating Loneliness in Seniors

My Role

  • Conducted user research, took charge in creating the personas and journey maps in a team of 6 students.
  • Participated in ideation and provided insights to narrow down the ideas.
  • Made low-fi prototypes to test our ideas and got feedback from seniors.
  • Worked with team members to finalize and visualize the concept.

Timeline

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The Challenge

Mental, physical and social activity are essential to our health, and a lack of these has deleterious effects on our total wellness, which is even more pronounced for the elderly. There are a plenty of products and services aimed at a younger and more tech-savvy audience, but much fewer options for seniors. However, the elderly demographic is growing at a fast speed and there are a lot of problems remained to be solved in their everyday lives. So here is our challenge—

How can we cultivate the wellness and fulfillment of seniors in senior care facilities?

Identifying Opportunities

Secondary & Primary Research

In order to know about the area, we firstly did literature review to get as much information as possible. In this phase, I collected and read 20+ articles in the social sphere, and mapped all the information gathered from the secondary research. This step helped us understand different trends and factors that relate to the problem statement and the greater context surrounding it.

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After we had a basic understanding about the domain, we visited a local senior care facility (Weinberg Terrace Pittsburgh) and had open-ended conversations with seniors and staffs. From the first visit, we got to know what the senior’s life look like in the facility. Some of our findings:

  • Seniors love participating in activities in the facility.
  • Many seniors have different kinds of physical limitations.
  • It was a challenge for us to talk and empathize with seniors.

Reframing the Problem

Informed by the findings in our initial research, we started brainstorming all possible opportunity gaps, and grouped them by affinity, and then combined the ideas in one group to a super opportunity statement. After that, we rated each product opportunity by criteria, and finally defined our main topic: Loneliness.

How might we help seniors develop and maintain relationships in the face of loneliness?

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Wait…What kinds of loneliness?

There are a lot of reasons that can lead to loneliness. Even young people feel lonely. Are there anything special about seniors. Why do they feel lonely? To gain an in-depth understanding of the loneliness and isolation in seniors, we went to the senior care facility again.

Challenge 1: How to identify lonely and isolated seniors

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Challenge 2: How to ask questions about loneliness

Questions directly about isolation or feelings of loneliness might cause unintended emotional harm to the seniors, so our strategy was talking about their social engagement and daily activities instead of asking them directly if they are lonely or not.

Key insights:

Loneliness in seniors not only comes from mental space, but also from their physical limitations. These limitations are the physical barriers to social engagement that may lead to social isolation.

Personas

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Journey maps

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Ideation

After understanding the problem and the users, we ran an ideation sprint, each member of the team came up with 10+ ideas. We explained our ideas, merged similar ideas and mapped them by affinity and then voted. At last, we chose 2 ideas.

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Here we faced a challenge: we had a really tough time discussing which concept we should move forward with, and we only had several days left for the project. What should we do?

Validating the Ideas with Seniors

Even if the time was limited, we decided to go back to the people who we were designing for, the seniors, and got feedback from them. We made 2 quick prototypes, interviewed about 8 people in the facility. We got lots of valuable feedback. image

From the feedback, we realized that the problems of clock concept were mainly desirability problems, and for the glasses concept, people’s concerns were more about the technical part.

Also, we did some research and found 50% of seniors have hearing loss (much more than the number of seniors who have memory loss), and 80% of these people don’t use hearing aids, which means the glasses concept may also have a bigger impact even outside of the senior facility. Thus, we decided to move forward with the glasses concept.

Final Concept

The glasses use real-time subtitles and bone-conduction technology to improve senior’s hearing ability, so the seniors are able to understand what their families and friends are saying, they will be more engaged and fend off their loneliness.

We designed the glasses with the style and form that seniors are most familiar with and would feel comfortable to wear. Seniors can interact with the glasses with two intuitive buttons: one near the ears adjusts hearing aid volume, and the other one near the eyes controls the subtitles. image

Technology enablers:

  • Lens projection for the subtitles
  • Bone conduction for the hearing aid
  • Live speech-to-text translator

Next Steps

As mentioned in user feedback, there are still a a lot to think and improve:

  • How fast can seniors read subtitles?
  • How can we insure safety when seniors are walking?
  • How does the interaction with the glasses work?

We believe the Hearing Augmentation Glasses concept has the potential to impact a large percentage of the senior population. By giving back to seniors a sense that they once had and have since lost, they will regain a piece of themselves and be able to re-engage with their friends and loved ones.