Combating elderly social isolation through game
Social isolation among the elderly is a problem which continues to put both their physical and mental health at risk. At an older age when they are most vulnerable, social isolation can be caused by anything from losing contact with friends over time to facing neglect from loved ones. This increases the chance for depression,
anxiety, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and premature death. For the elderly, social interaction is a vital part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Interaction Design — Research, Ideation, Visuals, Prototyping, Marketing
Illustrator, Arduino, 3D Printer
Sept – Nov 2019
How might we increase accessible social opportunities for the elderly and motivate them to make meaningful connections with others?
Board games are one of the best ways to encourage social interaction. Interactive Mahjong is a 4-player board game which takes traditional Mahjong and increases its engagement value to attract a wider range of participants. This is done through producing a response or feedback to each physical interaction in the game, and adapting certain features to improve overall accessibility. By installing this game in safe public spaces, the elderly will be able to play Interactive Mahjong with individuals of all ages and make healthy connections with their surrounding community.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
I started by conducting secondary research because I wanted to know the causes of elderly social isolation and what solutions have been explored in the market already. This step was vital for my design approach moving forward.
Seniors can experience social isolation in many areas of life, including when there is a lack of interaction with friends and family, involvement in community activities, or the feeling of comfort in one's own neighbourhood.
Seniors that are most vulnerable include the ones who are older, living in urban areas, have no partner, have activity limitations, are born outside of Canada, or have lower levels of education. Immigrant seniors generally reported poorer health status than non-immigrant seniors due to language and racial barriers.
MARKET / TECHNOLOGY
A large amount of the current technology available on the market is based on utilizing Virtual Reality (VR) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) to combat social isolation. However, these options are both costly and take away the physical, tangible experiences of the real world.
A positive user experience for the elderly starts with a product that is accessible, engaging and encourages healthy physical interaction in a safe environment. It must also motivate the user enough to use it regularly.
Based on my research, I created a user persona to better understand the pain points and needs of the elderly user.
IDEATION & DEVELOPMENT
At this stage, I knew I wanted to create interactions which regularly connect the elderly to members of their surrounding community. Thinking about where these interactions could be implemented, I started looking at popular board games such as chess, checkers and Mahjong. Mahjong has a great advantage because it's
a cost efficient solution which utilizes physical interaction and can attract individuals of any generation. It is also a game which already has good engagement value and can be played
with several players at once.
Why a physical interface over a digital one?
For the elderly demographic, communicating through a digital interface can't quite replicate the feeling of a physical presence. Some of the most powerful social connections are the ones made in person, and ones which last for the long-term.
The first prototype utilizes Arduino technology to give a demonstration of how the Interactive Mahjong table would respond to certain actions from the user.
The second prototype utilizes 3D printing to give a scaled-down display of what the Interactive Mahjong table would look like.
FINAL OUTCOME & MARKETING
After completion of this project, a student-run exhibition was held to market the product to the general public. Students, staff, and other faculty were able to test out the Arduino and physical prototypes.
CHALLENGES & KEY TAKEAWAYS
One of the biggest challenges with this project was developing a feasible solution for the elderly demographic. Finding motivation to work towards a healthier lifestyle is no easy feat, and it is further limited by the impact of old age. My biggest takeaway was learning to explore creative solutions outside of mobile applications, and seeing how physical interactions could work together with digital technology to produce a beautifully tangible experience.
If I were to revisit this project, I would conduct user interviews with the elderly demographic to get a sense of how they would respond to Interactive Mahjong and the combination of digital technology with traditional board games.