A new application aimed at improving the functional life of older adults will receive its first major user tests.
Developed at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) through a collaboration launched in 2015 between the College of Nursing, the Department of Psychology and the Department of Art, Art History and Design, the application is called mPACT, a mobile training for physical activity.
It integrates low-impact physical activity in the form of multicolored brain training chair exercises that have been shown to improve cognitive function and coordination of mind and body. Participants win gold medal awards for their successes and improvements.
"Research has shown that physical activity and brain training will improve cognition," said Dr. Lenora Smith, assistant professor of nursing and a respected educator in gerontological nursing. The new application is the first time anyone has combined the two, she says.
The testing will begin with a grant from the American Nursing Foundation, said Dr. Smith, the project's lead researcher. The 50 test participants will wear Fitbit devices to estimate their heart rate while using the app.
This will be a one-year study evaluating the usability or ease of use of the mPACT application and providing feedback on revisions and improvements. We want to see if they reach their heart rate goal while using them for aerobic exercise, in order to improve cognition in people with mild cognitive impairment.
Dr. Lenora Smith, Assistant Professor of Nursing and a prominent nurse educator in gerontology
The study will also assess the amount of exercise with a small impact needed to reach the target heart rate, Dr. Smith said.
"We hope that with this grant we can make this application more gamified and use these features to encourage users to do the exercises," says Winnie Argentina, associate professor of art, amy and game design who has teamed up with Dr. Dr. Smith on the project along with Jacques O'Brien, art lecturer, amy and game design lecturer, and Dr. Ododie Price, president of the Department of Psychology, an expert on cognitive aging.
Exercise is crucial to the mobility of the elderly and "brain games are also a psychological necessity for cognition," O'Brien says.
Contributed by Dr. Smith and Dr. Price, the couple is responsible for the current look and feel of the application, which initially targets people with mild cognitive impairment that can be improved by a combination of physical and cognitive exercise. Its future scope could be extended to people in their 40s and 50s as a preventative measure.
Argentina and Brian will use the results of the study to answer questions about the intuitive operation of the application and how attractive it is to users over long periods of use. Dr Smith says information about the user experience of the study participants will be crucial.
"What is their take on the usability of the application and how many exercises do they do?" She asks.
The current study has already assessed how older adults are associated with various commercial applications, informing the mPACT design, which has a larger variety and other features that cater to older users. Future versions will include a social media feature and a cumulative gold star rating so users can communicate and compete.
University of Alabama at Huntsville