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Peer-based Check-in Systems

Research Project, Ph.D. in Informatics

Indiana University, Bloomington

What is the Check-in Tree?

The Check-in Tree is a peer-based Check-in system tailored to the check-in needs of older adults. Older adults in rural areas typically use some common real-life Check-in systems (e.g., turning on/off the porch light) to indicate with neighbors that they have woken up, for example. Neighbors will call if a friend has not indicated they woke up. This idea of morning check-in is replicated through the Check-in Tree system. Ideally, each older adult in a peer-group would have their own Check-in Tree. Each Check-in Tree would have a picture of everyone in their peer-group along with their own picture hanging from the branches of the tree. When older adults get up in the morning, they press the button at the base of the tree and notices the green LED on their picture turn on. The older adult’s status (steady LED light) appears on the Check-in Trees of all of their peers. If someone doesn't check-in, their friends can make sure they are okay. The Check-in Tree empowers older adults to help each other maintain their independence and instills a strong sense of community.


Field Deployment Study

We successfully conducted a 2-phase field deployment study with 16 older adults. 8 older adults participated in each phase and each phase lasted for 2 weeks. The purpose of the study was to investigate the check-in practices of older adults and the utility of a Check-in Tree in helping older adults connect socially. We also explored the form factor and functionality of the same and their perception and idea of a potential Check-in system. Following were the research questions for the study:

  • RQ1: With whom are older adults checking-in?

  • RQ2: How often are older adults checking-in with each other?

  • RQ3: How often do older adults follow-up on each other after checking-in?

  • RQ4: What are the reasons behind older adults’ preference of using a certain system prototype?

  • RQ5: What challenges are faced by older adults while checking-in?

  • RQ6: How do older adults envision a potential Check-in system?

Findings & Discussion:

  • Older Adults connected more frequently with friends than family. Friends formed a dominant part of their social circle. While several past research has focused on connecting older adults with their family, it is important to consider the benefit of connecting older adults with their friends and peers.

  • Older adults found the system non-stigmatizing, because they were actively checking-in on others, instead of being on on the receiving end of care, or being passively monitored.

  • There is a need for mutually beneficial systems that allow older adults to reciprocate the benefits they receive through the system.

  • There is a need for systems that broaden social networks, thereby providing opportunities to redistribute caregiving and reduce the burden on a single entity in an older adults' social network.

  • Scalability and customizability are important design considerations for such systems.


Upcoming Project


The next project that I am currently working on is a Check-in Toolkit which is the next version of the Check-in Tree. It simulates the functionality of the Tree, except that it is completely customizable. The toolkit is a more flexible and customizable version of the Check-in tree. Following are the specific advantages of the toolkit over the Check-in Tree:

  • The toolkit is a much smaller device that would fit in your palm.

  • The toolkit is flexible in terms of the number of members that can be there in a peer group.

  • The toolkit is customizable and members can build their own user interface with the toolkit.

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