Psychology of Aging

In order to support the overarching aim of HeiAge, to develop and validate new technologies that can support older adults’ mobility, it is crucial to understand older adults’ experiences of own aging and the general psychological aspects of mobility-related decisions in advanced age. This helps to better understand their decisions to use mobility-related technology. The subprojects B4, A3/B6, and Q1 address these issues from gerontological, psychological, and sociological perspectives.

Aging not only affects physical parameters, such as gait speed or flexibility, but also has an impact on psychological dimensions such as cognition, motivation and emotion. Just as physical changes affect the mobility of a person, these psychological aspects are also able to influence the experience of mobility in people’s everyday lives. This can be either directly through motoric changes, or more indirectly through individual differences in the acceptance of (mobility-related) technology, fear of being judged as a “stereotypical senior”, or a reduced or unrealistically high belief in one’s own abilities.

Age simulation

The subproject “B4 – age simulation” aims to test and evaluate the biomechanical effects and psychological influence of an age simulation suit. The suit limits the participants’ coordinative and visual abilities through additional weights, bandages and adapted glasses to simulate age-related limitations. We want to explore the attitudes towards own aging, age stereotypes, experience of physical limitations, and subjective age. We will use this information to identify indications for improving the validity of the simulation, but also for the significance of the reflection of a negative image of old age.

For this purpose, we will apply standardized everyday movement tasks, established in geriatric assessments combined with established measurements of experiences of own aging and age stereotypes. The movements will be measured in a motion capturing laboratory and the experiences of aging will be compared before and after wearing an age simulation suit. In case of a positive evaluation of the original or modified variants of the age simulation results, the findings have the potential to indirectly contribute to the development of intelligent assistance systems to be used in old age.

Decisions related to mobility

In the subproject “Psychological Bases for Decisions and Information Processing Related to Mobility”, we want to achieve two major goals: First, we are interested in the interplay between cognitive and physical factors and aim to investigate the immediate influence of mobility (or physical) restriction on cognitive functioning. We postulate that mobility impairment directly influences cognitive performance which in turn affects the ability to use compensatory strategies to maintain well-being. Furthermore, we want to test whether age stereotypes influence the impact of mobility restriction on cognitive functioning. This study will be conducted to outline the benefits of supporting systems in maintaining cognitive performance in older age.

Second, we want to test whether mobility might also be determined by fundamental psychological motives. Established motives associated with achievement, power, and affiliation can be implicitly measured with the multi-motive grid (MMG; Sokolowski, Schmalt, Langens, & Puca, 2000). However, situations displayed in the current MMG do not cover representative mobility situations. Therefore, we intend to develop a multi-motive grid for mobility situations (MMG-M). This newly developed MMG-M will allow for testing whether the established motives of achievement, power, and affiliation differ intrapersonally between mobility- and non-mobility-associated situations and between individuals of different age or different frailty levels.

Digital technologies to support mobility

The subproject “Opportunities and challenges of digital technologies to support older adults’ mobility applying a user-centered design approach” is one out of three cutting-across projects of HeiAge. The aim of the subproject Q1 is to combine feasibility and implementation testing for selected technologies in different HeiAge subprojects. The project heads to increase the acceptance of mobility supporting technologies among older adults and other stakeholders and to maximize the likelihood that the mobility supportive technology solutions developed in HeiAge (i.e., smart rollator, exoskeleton, exosuit) will see a range of suitable real-world applications.

The involvement of potential end-users of the technologies into the research is realized by the user-centered design (UCD) approach in which users directly and decisively influence the development of technology through their preferences. The results will allow to better understand why specific technologies find more acceptance than others. Quantitative (i.e., online and postal surveys) and qualitative (i.e., focus groups) research methods are applied in a mixed-methods approach. The project accords with HeiAge’s ambition in terms of serving older adults’ maintenance or regaining of mobility, connected with increased autonomy, self-efficacy, social participation, and well-being.