Social health of older adultsLast night's CHIFOO meeting was one of the better ones from the last few years. Jay Lundell and Margie Morris from Intel's Proactive Health Lab discussed ways technology could support the sociological health of older adults. Numerous longitudinal studies indicate that social connectedness improves general health, and yet that connectedness declines with age. Intel's participants reported having trouble remembering friends' names, so they would avoid social situations rather than risk embarrassing themselves. (Hey, I do that, too!) Though lauded as the ultimate tool to combat loneliness, computers tended to be in isolated rooms, and were difficult for participants to use.
The researchers provided hardware displays designed to provide feedback about social interactions: a line graph representing time spent with others, a "solar system" of friends that expanded over time, and some bar charts. Not surprisingly, though, the participants preferred a "simpler" gadget: a lamp that illuminated when their children were home (at their own houses). Nothing fancy, just an old-fashioned lamp reminding them that someone was thinking of them.