Yann Riche, user experience and hci research
y a n n . r i c h e @ g m a i l . c o m

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Ph.D. thesis

Designing Communication Appliances to Support Aging in Place

Completed in Oct. 2008, written in English

Eldercare is already becoming a key challenge for our society, and the situation will degrade rapidly with the shortage of trained personal and the rising proportion of elderly people. Innovative approaches are needed to help elders remain at home longer and safer, to age in place. Researchers in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) contribute to seeking solutions to this problem by studying how technologies can support elders and caregivers needs. Monitoring systems have gained popularity in HCI, but remain designed to support the caregivers' task, rather than directly supporting the elders' smooth aging. To seek alternative to monitoring solution, this thesis explores how communication appliances ---i.e. computer-based devices allowing small groups of intimate people to communicate--- can provide a socially acceptable support for aging in place.

This research studies aspects of elders independent living are influenced by communication, and the role of communication in their well-being and safety. A user study with 14 elderly participants living independently explored the role of communication plays in maintaining their independence and well-being. Results of this study highlighted the role of peer support behaviors called PeerCare in providing reciprocal care amongst elderly friends, neighbors and club members. It also highlighted elders' needs for non-intrusive communication means with their social networks and families in particular. In addition, this study highlighted the role of routines and rhythms awareness in building awareness of each others' activities and status. These concepts suggest that communication appliances can help establish and maintain PeerCare behaviors by supporting an awareness of environmental and personal cues which serve as a basis for establishing and maintaining reciprocal rhythms awareness.

To explore these aspects further, we conducted two studies involving two communication appliances, i.e. mirrorSpace and markerClock, which we used as technology probes to gather data in real settings with elderly participants. Initially designed by Roussel et al. (2004), mirrorSpace is a video-based always-on communication device which uses proximity to adjust privacy using a blur filtration. Designed in this thesis, markerClock is an augmented clock permitting the ambient communication of motion information reflecting people's home activities and the direct communication of symbolic codes. We designed markerClock specifically to support rhythms awareness by using the implicit mapping of the communication history on the clock. These studies confirmed the role of rhythm awareness in peer support, and highlighted the need for value in direct communication. We specifically explored the concept of value in a series of participatory design sessions which suggested the influence of sensuality, effort and empathy.

We conclude this work by describing two studies exploring the role and usage of technology probes as a research and design methodology. In these studies, we highlighted the role of technology probes for easing users' engagement in participatory processes and introduced a new interactive visualization method called Méelange for exploring log data issued from technology probes.

This work has implications for the design of communication appliances for aging in place and the technology probes methodology. It provides suggestions regarding the design of communication devices to help elders better age in place by relying on existing socially acceptable behaviors.

My Ph.D. work seeks alternative to existing monitoring and assistive technologies to support seniors desire to "age in place". Moving beyond existing paradigms for helping elders by helping caregivers, I study how communications (in particular Communication Appliances) can improve seniors well-being.

You can download a PDF version of my thesis here: Download File Yann Riche Ph.D. thesis (about 4 MBytes).