Designing a simple technology interface to help dementia caregivers use COACH in the home
Keywords: Assistive technology, caregivers, informal caregivers, user interface design, participatory design, human-computer interaction (HCI), usability evaluation, usability testing, user experience.
With the number of people with dementia expected to double by 2030 worldwide, the financial burden of dementia will pose the most significant health and social crisis of the century . While medical treatments hold promise to slow disease progression, “smart home” technologies that assist with activities of daily living hold potential to mitigate healthcare utilization, reduce caregiver dependency, delay long-term care placement and improve overall quality of life. Our COACH system (Cognitive Orthosis for Assisting aCtivities in the Home), for example, has been successful in guiding individuals through hand-washing using audio and video prompts . However, in a real home setting, COACH in its current design would still require technical personnel to set up and manage the system and dementia caregivers to standby to support individuals during use. Our research team believes that providing caregivers with easy-to-use, computer-based tools to interact with smart home technologies could help overcome these barriers to home deployment. Thus, the overall goal of this research project is to collaborate with informal dementia caregivers to design, prototype and evaluate a technology interface that will facilitate their interaction (i.e. system set-up, alerts, reporting) with COACH in the home.
Phase 1: Participatory design
This research project will use a participatory design approach to understand caregivers’ problems, gather technology requirements, select desired features and technology modalities, and design a user interface (UI) prototype to support informal dementia caregivers’ interactions with the COACH system. Participatory design (also known as cooperative design and collective resource) involves direct, active and ongoing collaboration between end users (in this case, informal dementia caregivers) and technology designers (i.e. IATSL’s research team). The approach aims to combine diverse knowledge sets and expertise; instill ownership and commitment from both designers and end users; and create opportunities for end users to participate in design decision-making [3, 4]. The concept of “mutual learning” is central to participatory design, where two-way collaboration helps designers learn about the application area, and helps end users learn about technical possibilities or think about opportunities for technology . The objective of the participatory design phase of this project is to merge multiple design alternatives, generated in group design sessions, into one paper prototype “blueprint” to guide the research team’s functional UI development.
Phase 2: Usability evaluation
After developing a functional UI prototype on the preferred modality, the research team will invite a new set of informal dementia caregivers to participate in individual usability evaluation sessions. Proficiency will be measured in terms of the percentage of predefined tasks completed using the UI, and number of errors made during task attempts. Subjective usability, user experience and workload will also be measured using standardized scales. Finally, a semi-structured qualitative interview framed by Nielsen’s ten usability heuristics  will be conducted to drive design recommendations for future UI development.
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- Nielsen, J. Ten usability heuristics. 2005.
Amy Hwang, University of Toronto