DEVELOPING A SMART WALKER FOR OLDER ADULTS

Project Brief

While walkers are commonly used mobility aids for older adults, they are frequently misused, abandoned, or resented by their users. For my undergraduate thesis, I focused on increasing proper usage and safety of walkers, while making them easier to incorporate into the user's daily life.

Roles I Played

Overview

I assembled and led a team of professionals and students to streamline and expedite the process of understanding how older adults user walkers. As a result of primary research with key stakeholders, I developed a wide range of prototypes and conducted iterative user testing. I presented my findings and final prototype via poster session at the 21st Annual World Congress on Gerontology and Geriatrics.

  • Assembled and led team

  • Conducted literature review

  • Wrote grant

  • Recruited participants

  • Conducted contextual interviews and observations

  • Facilitated co-creation sessions

  • Created minimum viable prototypes

  • Conducted iterative user testing

  • Prototyped physically and with CAD

  • Generated actionable insights

  • Presented design to stakeholders

  • Presented in academic contexts

Presentation

  • The 21st IAGG World Congress on Gerontology & Geriatrics 

  • The 2nd Annual Public Health Consortium at Elon University

  • The 2017 National Conference for Undergraduate Research

Funding and Sponsorship

  • The Lumen Prize (Visit Site)

  • The Elon University Honors Program

  • The Elon University Summer Undergraduate Research Experience

Research

To understand the needs and desires of seniors who use ambulation aids in general, I first conducted a survey of relevant literature and spoke with a physical therapist who specializes in geriatrics. Through this process, I was able to understand the documented clinical problems of ambulation aids. The information I gathered led me to focus specifically on walkers. Once the scope of the project had been determined, I identified and helped recruit participants for group co-creation sessions, individual interviews, and ethnographic observations. Seniors were identified at and recruited from the Twin Lakes Community in Burlington, NC. Due to IRB proceedings, photo and video of participants was prohibited

Understanding

I conducted 3 rounds of research over the two and a half year project. Information from each set of interviews and ethnographic observations was synthesized using a modified house of quality which was updated throughout the process. In the modified house of quality (left) I compared user insights, needs, and desires (rows) with physician insights, needs, and desires, as well as technical needs (columns) to determine key insights and design requirements.

Iterations

I used the findings from the house of quality to develop a series of sketches. Because I come from a non-traditional background, in which design drawing was not a part of my curriculum, this was my first experience turning my ideas into images. The sketch prototype (Image 2) was tested with users, which led to modifications in the house of quality. These changes were implemented in a minimum viable prototype that was presented to stakeholders for prototype testing. Feedback from this third round was synthesized and informed a second minimum viable prototype, which was presented to stakeholders during additional prototype testing. 

Solution

Following the three sets of interviews and single set of ethnographic observations with primary stakeholders, and four rounds of interviews with secondary stakeholders, a high-fidelity, working prototype was created using a variety of current market walkers and 3D-printed couplings to retrofit pieces to each other. Based on feedback from physicians regarding safe use of walkers, members of my team used Arduinos to program a smart braking system and a distance indication system to encourage and ensure safe use of the device. I was featured in school publications, and was able to present my work at local and international conferences.