Concordia Sensoria Research Team (CONSERT) Doctoral Students
Designing for Sensory Decline: Sensible Technology for the Independent Elderly


Lois Frankel
Special Individualized Program (SIP) Ph.D.
Concordia University

This doctoral research is a cross-disciplinary inquiry into the design considerations that arise from the relationship between the frail elderly and their experience of sensory decline, and technology- enabled devices or systems that augment the senses. This research would involve: i) an exploration of the senses and sensory decline, ii) an examination of ethnographic methodologies for design research, iii) an investigation into past and current wearable and "ubiquitous" (integrated into the environment) multi-modal computing approaches for sensory augmentation iv) an applied study using prototypes of sensor based products to solve design problems for elderly people, and v) the creation of a model for design for sensory decline for the elderly.

One goal of this research is to create a bridge between technological opportunities and people's behavioural, social and cultural preferences. It will investigate the perceptions about wearable, tangible and integrated computation devices/systems in relation to perceived invasiveness, frailty, helplessness, and conversely, independence. Another primary objective is to come to an understanding of the important design issues. A key aspect of this research will be the collaboration with elderly participants and healthcare providers in exploring how sensor-enabled multi-modal devices or systems can be integrated into seniors' lives to provide a sense of wellbeing. The users will be involved in the "participatory design" process.

There are many design-related questions that arise when sensory decline is augmented, increased or immersed through sensor-enabled multi-modal wearable devices or intelligent systems. Some of these questions include:

  • How do elderly people respond to sensory loss in their daily lives?
  • Which senses or combination of senses are essential to the ability to maintain independence, to support relationships, and to contribute to a sense of wellbeing?
  • How do the frail elderly experience technology and what would the criteria be for the successful design of technology-enabled sensory "extensions"?
  • What are the behavioural, social and legal implications of designing devices/systems to enhance the senses?

The outcome of this research will contribute to the growing body of cross-disciplinary knowledge (in areas as diverse as anthropology, computer systems engineering, human computer interaction, human factors/ergonomics, industrial design, among others) related to designing computer technologies that improve the quality of people's lives; specifically, it would address sensory design issues related to the elderly.