Why would 300 million people want to waste time playing a smartphone game like “Angry Birds,” where players hurdle kamikaze birds at evil pigs trying to steal eggs? That’s precisely the question that Stanford researchers asked when its healthy aging team set out to design addictively fun smartphone applications that motivate midlife and older adults to improve daily health habits.
The research team is currently testing three different apps, all of which use the accelerometer in the phone and a custom program to monitor how much a smartphone wearer walks or runs during the day.
One app motivates users with visual feedback of activity levels, using gas gauge graphics to inform people if they’re meeting their daily healthy habits goals. Another app appeals to users’ cooperative and competitive natures, setting participants up with social groups with similar goals, then tracking their progress in comparison with others. A third app allows participants to “adopt” a virtual pet bird that exhibits the symptoms of either good health or bad, based on the daily healthy habits of its “owner.”
This is one of several healthy aging studies being spearheaded by Abby King, PhD, professor of health research and policy and of medicine. King is bringing together experts in community health, psychology, and engineering to explore how emerging mobile devices and communication technologies can be used to get seniors off the couch and into their community to exercise, shop, and socialize. (I wrote about another one of her projects earlier today.)