Digital Family Portraits: Support for Aging in Place

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Rowan, James Thomas, Jr.
Mynatt, Elizabeth D.
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As people age there is an overwhelming desire to remain in the familiar surroundings of the family home, what is called Aging in Place. But inevitable changes that occur in their lives force the aging adults and their families to consider a move to some form of institutional living. Living at a distance from one another, the adult child attempts to maintain peace of mind concerning the well-being of their aging parents but finds it to be a difficult task. I propose to address this problem by first proposing that technology can help minimize the anxieties experienced by the adult child concerning their aging parents well being by appropriately presenting information on the aging parents daily life. This technological design concept does not require that the aging parent input, or for that matter, do anything other than live their lives as they normally live them. Further, this technology provides this information in a manner that is continuously available to the adult child for either opportunistic or planned perusal. As a single instance of the technological design concept proposed above, the Digital Family Portrait embeds well-being related information into an item commonly found in homes, the picture in a picture frame. The Digital Family Portrait was first tested in a wizard-of-oz field trial, then redesigned based on the outcome of this initial field trial coupled with the results of two lab-based studies and a further informal evaluation. The redesigned Digital Family Portrait was built and installed in the home of an adult child while the sensors to drive it were installed in an aging parents home. A field trial of this installation lasting for one year was conducted. The result of this field trial was to find that the Digital Family Portrait was an acceptable means of resolving certain peace of mind issues for the adult child while not raising privacy. It was found to be used in a socially acceptable manner by the adult child while the aging parent to reported feeling less lonely.
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