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Talking Technology to Encourage Older Adult Exercise

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An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Robert Gordon University (RGU) has recently secured funding for a project to investigate if an app that uses voice conversations can encourage physical activity in older adults.

After receiving its funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) GetAMoveOn Network+, the study will explore how contextually relevant conversational dialogue can be used as a digital health intervention.

Physical activity and exercise can help you stay healthy, energetic and independent as you get older.

The team, from RGU’s School of Computing Science and Digital Media and the School of Health Sciences, will work closely with Professor Ehud Reiter, natural language generation expert from the University of Aberdeen.

Professor Nirmalie Wiratunga, Professor of Intelligent Systems Research at RGU, said: ‘Conversation appeals to all age groups, but might prove particularly appropriate for older adults, who can have difficulties with new technologies and may be more likely to appreciate the natural interaction offered through conversational dialogue.

‘Therefore, delivering behaviour change interventions using digital conversation provides an opportunity for achieving higher levels of adoption and adherence, compared to traditional approaches.’

Text notifications provide no opportunity for interaction.

Professor Kay Cooper, Clinical Professor of Allied Health Professions at RGU and NHS Grampian, explains: ‘Currently, digital behaviour change interventions are delivered as text notifications on mobile phones, and while this approach is prevalent, there is little evidence of its effectiveness.

‘As a means of one-way communication, text notifications provide no opportunity for interaction and research has shown that fewer than 30% are typically viewed by users, with average delays of close to three hours.’

Participants will also be entered into a prize draw to win an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

Dr Sadiq Sani, Research Fellow at RGU, added: ‘Our vision is to develop a natural, ubiquitous and proactive system, which can improve the physical activity of older adults. To do this, we need to answer a number of questions, such as whether wearable sensors can be used to contextualise digital conversations and whether this type of experience can ensure full engagement.’

The project will run from January to June 2019 and will involve monthly workshops with a group of 10 older adults, who will work with the research team to co-create the app. Participants will also be entered into a prize draw to win an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

Anyone interested in taking part can contact Dr Sadiq Sani for more information at: s.a.sani@rgu.ac.uk

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