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Social Participation for improving emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing in independently living older adults

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DREAM (Social Participation for improving emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing in independently living older adults)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2019-01-31

The combination of longer life expectancy, evolving socio-economical norms and conditions, and new technologies are dramatically changing life after retirement, and not always for the better. In more and more countries, pensioners find themselves with many years in front of them, some of them likely characterized by reduced physical and cognitive abilities. This project aims at rethinking long life and understanding the context that can make this period of life more attractive.

The specific angle we take is that of enabling older adults of all ages to learn, grow, interact, and contribute to society through ICT. In other words, we aim at enabling adults to be contributors to societal wellbeing. We generically refer to this group of abilities as life participation abilities, and we focus on these aspects because studies tell us that the ability of interacting and feeling useful and helpful to others is essential to a person’s wellbeing, sometimes more so than health. In doing so, we also took the bold commitment of training a new generation of researchers. The objective of the training path is to develop a profile that would allow students to pursue R&D projects aiming at designing, developing and evaluating technology to enable social participation and contributions by older adults.

The desired impact is directly on happiness of older adults of any age and their integration in society. This not only benefits the target audience, but it impacts family members as well. If our working assumptions are correct, this also leads to more active and healthy individuals, more likely to be able to live independently, with all the well known societal benefits of independent living. Even a partial success in these aspects would translate to a tremendous positive impact on a very large portion of the population.
We run a large scale multi-site study, codenamed “Happiness studies”, aimed at gained a better understanding of happiness in later age. The study was carried out in Mongolia, Costa Rica and Paraguay. The effort required the elaboration the protocol, adaptation to the local context of the study sites, approval by the competent ERB, data collection and analysis. We obtained two main kinds of results: the first is related to the study design itself. By discussing with colleagues all around the world in preparation for this study, we identified the importance of considering the future time perspective and linking this with wellbeing indicators. We identified the proper instruments, and in fact the combination of instruments for measuring the constructs of interest and performed the required translation and validation for the languages for which the instrument was not available, so that it can now be reused by other researchers. The second is the study itself. We collected responses from 724 older adults for a 55-questions study (with 236 response items), living in all sort of settings and conditions, from large cities to rural area and even to nomadic settings. The results are very interesting in terms of characterizing the relationship between living conditions, future time perspective, loneliness, well-being and technology.

In terms of technology, we have developed need finding and concept development studies that have the informed the design of novel life participation applications. Concrete outcomes are i) the use of reminiscence and storytelling for co-located and virtual interactions to strengthen current connections and stimulate bond among older adults ii) helping older adults reconnect with old friends and contacts. We have also given the first steps into incorporating AI into the reminiscence application, to give older adults further independence from co-located settings.
In terms of social contributions, we have also developed models that allow older adults to contribute to mechanical requiring no prior expertise as well as more expertise-intensive citizen science tasks. The above resulted in 5 main concept development studies and many publications, all of them driven by student efforts.

Indeed, the training results tell us that the program was successful at preparing students and getting them involved in the most challenging aspects of working with the target population. Students developed complementary skills that helped them to carry out research in this sensible context and grow their professional and academic profile; and in the process, contributing greatly to the research objectives of the project. We are aware that the impact of this program on the students goes beyond the performance indicators we set in the project. Thus, to give a glimpse into the many stories, dreams and individual voices in this project, we invite the attentive reader to visit the project website:
"The research activities have advancing the state of the art in four main areas: i) a better understanding of the factors contributing to happiness in later life, with large scale studies that in some cases were the first of the kind in the respective countries, ii) design of social interaction technologies with a focus on individuals with less opportunities for doing so, as a result of the study on friendship formation, reconnection in later life and social interaction models carried out as part of the project, and iii) as a result of the our experience, are also contributing with processes and guidelines for designing and developing technologies for vulnerable populations, a void that we identified in trying to address the project challenges and form students in this area.

The project has published almost 40 papers, also in prestigious outlets such as WWW, HCOMP, CHI, INTERACT, ICSE and SocInfo, each a top venue in its respective area (human computation, human-computer interaction and software engineering). Additional high-profile publications are under review or in elaboration. We are particularly happy of the fact that we are seeing an increasing number of joint publications across project partners. This is very clearly happening among the IT partners, which is somewhat easier as we share the same background, but we have recently submitted papers with all partners and we will continue to do so increasingly now that study results are available.

In addition to the dissemination in the scientific community, on the media and forums, we emphasise the potential transfer of results and knowledge to policy makers. The most promising avenue for impacts at this point are nursing homes in Italy and in Paraguay, where we are engaged in talks at the highest levels of ministry in Paraguay to run the ""Happiness studies"" consistently, and even to evolve the policy of the country to measure wellbeing and make it a stated goal connected to healthy aging.
We also highlight the collaboration with decision makers in Poland (meetings with Members of Parliament), and the regular cooperation with the Silesian Province in Poland (second biggest province in Poland, over 4.5 residents; the one with the biggest problem with ageing society - because of demographic structure). As a result of the collaborations with the latter, we have even prepared a grant application for deinstitutionalization process - ICT solutions for supporting older adults at home)."
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