Faculty receive grant to explore how tech may help older adults with health care

November 5, 2021

By Carolyn Doyle

Managing your health care can be complex and time-consuming, especially as you get older. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an assistant to keep track of appointments, medications, and more?

Aqueasha Martin-Hammond


Aqueasha Martin-Hammond

Faculty member Aqueasha Martin-Hammond, Ph.D., has received a $498,904 National Science Foundation grant to explore how intelligent assistants, such as Siri and Alexa, can help older adults with daily health-care information tasks at home. She serves as principal investigator for the project, “Designing Autonomy Preserving Interactions in Intelligent Assistants for Older Adults.

“Managing different types of information related to care can be challenging and overwhelming, especially if that process involves multiple doctors, multiple people, or even just a busy schedule,” says Martin-Hammond, assistant professor of human-computer interaction at the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI. “Daily, one might have to handle appointment information, information from a doctor, or information about medications, or even just a busy schedule.”

Agency and accessibility

The NSF-funded research builds on work she and her team have been doing with intelligent assistants (IAs).

“We found one concern with these types of technologies was the lack of agency, or sense of control, that people feel they have over their data and interactions,” says Martin-Hammond.

“For example, they might find it challenging to understand the data returned by the IA, or who has access to their health data.

“In our past studies, older adults also have expressed that while they believe IAs could make accessing online health information easier and more accessible, they have concerns about how intrusive the current systems are.”

Accessibility for older adults is a particular concern, notes Davide Bolchini, Ph.D. and chair of SoIC’s Department of Human-Centered Computing, who is co-principal investigator for the project.

“Conversational user interfaces (CUI’s) are becoming an important part of the digital ecosystem available to users,” he says, “yet these platforms are still understudied from the unique perspective of older adults, especially when accessing current and future services related to health support and social well-being.”

Working with local seniors and caregivers

The highly competitive NSF-funded project is a timely example of novel research at the intersection of human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and accessibility, with potential for broader community impact.

The project also has an Indiana connection.

“In this project, we will be continuing our partnerships with senior organizations in the local community to engage older adults and their informal caregivers,” Martin-Hammond says, to further understand the challenges of interacting with intelligent assistants for health information-related care tasks.

The researchers hope to advance their understanding of how to design IAs that allow seniors to preserve a sense of autonomy and independence, while helping to carry out health information tasks at home.

“In partnership with older adults and their caregivers, we will use what we learn to design strategies and build systems that can help overcome feelings about the lack of control in the interactions,” Martin-Hammond explains, “and provide more transparency when engaging with intelligent assistants for care tasks.”

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