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Tangible user interfaces as means of social interaction for the elderly

Bong W, Chen W, Bergland A. Tangible user interface for social interactions for the elderly: A review of literature. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction. 2018.

Review question

•    What impact do tangible user interfaces have on the social interactions of older adults?


      Healthy lifestyles have a strong association with healthy ageing and the maintenance of social and physical function. Social relationships are found to be a significant predictor of well-being across the course of life, which is particularly salient for older adults.

      While information and communication technology tools designed to improve daily life are expanding widely, the special needs of older adults have always been neglected in the design of technological tools.

      A tangible user interface (TUI) is a user interface that augments the real physical world by coupling digital information to everyday physical objects. By using physical objects to represent digital output, TUIs have great potential to improve older adults’ acceptance of technology. They can facilitate more natural, intuitive, and easier interactions for older adults, which might also result in less cognitive and physical efforts required from them.

      This study aims to review the evidence on the impact TUI on the social interactions of older adults.

How the review was done

      Review authors searched six electronic databases for peer-reviewed journal articles published in English until June 2017, using key words such as “elderly,” “tangible user interface,” and “social.”

      Only published or peer-reviewed works were included in the review.

      A total of 167 peer-reviewed studies were identified in the searches, and 21 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

      The study author did not report any specific funding for this work.

What the researchers found

      The review findings indicate very little use of TUI to enhance older adults’ social interactions. Of the included studies, most focused on the usability of certain TUI prototypes; only seven papers analyzed the impact of the devices on the social interaction of older adults.

      The small number of reviewed studies focusing on the effect of TUIs on the social interactions of older adults clearly shows the lack of evidence in this domain.

      Overall, the idea of adopting TUIs to improve social interactions of older adults has not been widely explored in academic disciplines. The evidence pointed to some collaborations between technology and art, but very little with other related disciplines such as health sciences and social sciences.


      With the fast growth of the ageing population, lack of social interaction among older adults is becoming an increasing social and economic challenge in many countries.

      Although there is a small body of research on the design, development, and prototype evaluation of TUIs, further study is needed to analyze their efficacy in addressing the loneliness and social exclusion among older adults.

      Collaborations between technology and other disciplines such as health and psychology have been low among the researchers, and there is a lack of user involvement, both in designing TUI for older adults and in testing and evaluating the prototype.

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