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ADOPTED: Incidental Interaction: Novel Technology to Support Elders-as-Athletes through Augmenting Everyday Interactions

Lead: Professor M.C Schraefel

Team: Professor C T Freeman, Dr M B Warner

Start date: October 2022

End date: January 2024

Partner organisations:

Abri Different Strokes Southampton 

Solent NHS Trust Z-Health Performance Solutions


Elders classically are framed as people who are inevitably getting weaker, losing muscle and bone mass, cognitive capacity, and inevitably requiring care to manage simple "activities of daily living" such as walking, feeding, toileting and bathing. These effects limit their capacity to live independently and healthily in their own homes.To address this decline, research in even just the past five years has been looking for new molecules and therapies to slow or reverse aging, to provide if not longer life, then better quality of life throughout the life course. While these advances in science and technology promise wonders (for those who will be able to afford them), there is already established science that demonstrates how we can all improve our life quality over our lifespan.

This same science can, today, improve the life quality of our elders - starting these interventions at any age. It's building strength:a well understood, human practice. No technology is required to build and maintain strength; only to move against gravity. Repeatedly. Research has repeatedly shown that resistance training for elders can improve quality of life while mitigating if not eliminating age associated co-morbidities. And yet, for all its proven effective, cheap - even free - benefits for healthful longevity, many elders are simply too weak to take care of themselves. According to a 2019 report from AgeUk on the State of Elder health, 15% of those aged 65-69, rising to 1 in 3 citizens over 85 in the UK require care.Some of the well-documented challenges to strength building are that, unlike a pill or garment or augmentation, to achieve the benefits of strength, one has to do the work oneself, actively. That takes time, effort, as well as the knowledge, skills and practices to support it. Mustering the effort can be even harder to achieve when one is already feeling weak, recuperating from an injury, a hospital stay, or from loneliness of isolation.The research in this project is specifically designed to address the challenges that keep elders from actively engaging in strength work.

Our approach is to co-create interactions to help build the knowledge skills and opportunities to practice to build and preserve the strength needed to maintain healthful independence at home. Our approach is simple: design interactive technology and gestures to leverage what we - including elders - do every day that is already strength work: stand, sit, grip, pull, push, reach, balance - and translate these into activities for building strength. We call it this novel protocol "do it twice." Stand from sitting? That's strength. Do it twice. That's strength building - and that supports the knowledge skills and practice of "elder athletes" building capabilities rather than requiring assistance.Our approach is interdisciplinary: experts in Human Computer Interaction, Sensors and Physiotherapy, developing novel, affordable interactive technologies to make strength practice accessible effective and enjoyable with support to guide these activities, reflect progress, and share with friends. We call the approach "incidental interaction for everyday strength."So far, we have tested the approach for feasibility. In this small project, with our partners in sustainable, assisted living housing, NHS Trusts, professional therapy and coaching, and with participating elders as co-designers, we will be refining the interaction, the sensors and the exercise protocols.

We will be able to tune our work at each stage to ensure best engagement. In three phases from design, to testing, to in-home evaluations we will together be validating the accessibility and efficacy of our approach.By realizing with this project the potential our preliminary work indicates and that our partners anticipate, we will contribute a new affordable breakthrough approach to help transform elder health and care, to enable longer, stronger elder independence@home.

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