UMD iSchool Awarded NSF Grant to Design Personalized Self-Tracking Tech for Older Adults to Improve Physical Activities

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In collaboration with Penn State researchers, UMD iSchool researchers aim to examine how older adults can personalize activity trackers through teachable interfaces to capture meaningful daily activities with a $1.2 M NSF grant.

Combined with the development of teachable interfaces, the project aims to enhance the motivation of older adults to engage in physical activities and with their own health data.

University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) researchers, in collaboration with Penn State researchers, have been awarded a four-year $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund their Teachable Activity Trackers for Older Adults project. The project team is developing innovative wearable technology tailored to track the movements and activities of older adults, age 60 and over. Combined with the development of teachable interfaces, the project aims to enhance the motivation of older adults to engage in physical activities and with their own health data. In the long term, the project team hopes to make societal impacts in nurturing a culture of diversity and inclusion that benefits the lives of older adults.

“Smart watches and other activity tracking technologies have become widely available over the years, making self-tracking easier than before, but older adults have adopted them less,” said Dr. Eun Kyoung Choe, principal investigator from the UMD team and Associate Professor at the UMD iSchool. “One barrier is that current physical activity trackers do not effectively identify and track older adults’ activities. Wrist-worn devices are able to pick up steps, but they can also pick up other arm movements that could skew step counts.”

Self-tracking physical activities can support people of all ages in understanding their lifestyle behaviors, making healthy choices, and reducing the risks for chronic disease. For older adults in particular, movement behaviors are especially critical as they help to maintain functional abilities and allow them to live independently.

For older adults, this measurement challenge is even greater because they often walk slower so the signal from movement is more subtle. Dr. David Conroy, principal investigator from the Penn State team and Professor of Kinesiology remarked, “We’re going to expand beyond capturing the frequency, intensity, and timing of step counts to detect the type of physical activities that older adults are doing. Developing the technology needed for older adults to teach connected devices how to recognize different types of activities in their daily routine will improve health and safety monitoring and create new possibilities for behavioral interventions to promote healthy aging.”

Based on understanding older adults’ movement and non-movement activities that they wish to change, the UMD and Penn State research teams will design and develop new personalized, multimodal activity trackers that provide opportunities for self-reflection through teachable interfaces. “A revolutionary idea behind teachable interfaces is that the users themselves can teach the system how to recognize their movements more accurately by fine tuning it to their idiosyncratic movements and context,” said Dr. Hernisa Kacorri, co-principal investigator from the UMD team and Assistant Professor at the UMD iSchool.

They also plan to investigate the similarities and differences in usability for subgroups of older adults, such as people with mild dementia, and the adjustments needed to accommodate them.

The UMD and Penn State teams are experts in human-computer interaction, health informatics, interactive machine learning, accessibility, aging, kinesiology, and physical therapy. The UMD team will be leading the design and development efforts, while the Penn State team will provide content area expertise on older adults’ physical activity, interpret findings from the co-design process, and assist with logistics for and interpretation of findings from the in situ deployment studies.

In addition to Dr. Choe, the UMD team includes Dr. Hernisa Kacorri, Assistant Professor in the iSchool and co-PI, Dr. Amanda Lazar, Assistant Professor in the iSchool and co-PI, and Dr. Young-Ho Kim, a postdoctoral researcher from the iSchool.

The UMD iSchool team is also supported by the UMD Division of Research assisting with the initial proposal submission through the “Strategic Growth Fund,” a mechanism designed to incentivise faculty to pursue and be more competitive for high-visibility, externally-funded research awards.

The PSU team includes Dr. David Conroy, principal investigator from the PSU site and Professor of Kinesiology, and Dr. Margaret Danilovich, DPT, PhD and Director of Research, Leonard Schanfield Research Institute at CJE SeniorLife in Skokie, IL.

The Teachable Activity Trackers for Older Adults project (grant no. 1955568 and no. 1955590) is slated to run from Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2024.

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About the University of Maryland College of Information Studies
Founded in 1965 and located just outside of Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) is top-ten ranked research and teaching college in the field of information science. UMD iSchool faculty, staff, and students are expanding the frontiers of how people access and use information and technology in an evolving world – in government, education, business, social media, and more. The UMD iSchool is committed to using information and technology to empower individuals and communities, create opportunities, ensure equity and justice, and champion diversity. https://ischool.umd.edu/

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