Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Voice2Connect: Informing the Design of Smart Speakers for Social Connectedness in Low-income Older Adults

Jane Chung, Ph.D. | Virginia Commonwealth University; Tracey Gendron, Ph.D. | Virginia Commonwealth University; Jodi Winship, Ph.D., OTR/L | Virginia Commonwealth University; Pam Parsons, Ph.D., RN, GNP-BC, FNAP | Virginia Commonwealth University
Competition Sponsor: National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
Awardee Year: 2020

There is a growing public health concern regarding the high risk of social isolation and loneliness among low-income older adults and its resulting impact on their longevity and overall well-being. The issue of social isolation is particularly relevant to low-income senior housing (LISH) residents who often have multiple chronic conditions and disabilities, lack of financial and social resources, and limited social networks. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop innovative approaches to mitigate these issues in older adults living in LISH. Voice-operated smart speakers have the potential to reduce social isolation and loneliness in this population, for example, by connecting with other people, sending a reminder about social activities, or providing a conversational agent. We propose to examine how smart speakers can support the needs of social connectedness among older adults living alone in LISH. We will use an iterative user-centered design and employ a mixed-methods approach, incorporating participatory methods, focus group interviews, and functional and psychosocial health questionnaires. The specific aims of this study are: (1) to determine experiences of social isolation, user needs, user context, and preferences related to the use of smart speakers for social connectedness in the LISH setting, (2) to evaluate older adults (smart speaker users and non-users)’ and stakeholders’ attitudes towards the use of smart speakers for promoting social engagement, with a focus on perceived usability and usefulness of the technology, and (3) to identify potential implementation barriers and privacy concerns among older adults and stakeholders. Stakeholders will include housing staff (N=10), family members of older adults (N=6), and health care professionals (N=6) providing wellness services to LISH residents. Older adults (N=36) will form six focus groups and take part in a series of three focus group sessions in which they participate in user-centered design activities to identify potential smart speaker features that can support the needs of social connectedness. Their thoughts and ideas will be used to develop low-fidelity prototypes and scenarios of use for each prototype. After prototype and scenario development, we will seek input from the older adults, housing staff, and health care providers through focus groups, which will be used to refine the prototype. The refined prototypes will be validated with the older adult participants. We will use a thematic analysis and inductive coding method to analyze focus group interview transcripts. Descriptive statistics will be used to analyze the questionnaire data collected from older adults and stakeholders. Findings from this study will inform our future research where we build smart speaker algorithms and functionalities that can facilitate the planning of innovative smart speaker-based social connectedness interventions for older adults in LISH.

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