VoicingElder is an avatar platform designed to structure a therapeutic intervention for older adults. This project emerged from transdisciplinary discussions and research in the arts, technology and gerontology.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the number of older adults over 65 years of age is expected to rise from 43.1 million in 2012 to 71 million in 2030, and will make up 20% of the population. Adults age 65 and over are the fastest growing segment of the population. With this growth, we need to develop new ways to shape elderhood and to encourage positive mental and physical health of this population. The electronic arts field has lagged behind on addressing the needs of this population. VoicingElder addresses this gap by combining motion‑tracking technologies and creative design in a patient‑centered therapeutic intervention.
VoicingElder applies cutting‑edge technology to a therapeutic environment for older adults, specifically aiming to assist the life review process. As the senior speaks about their life, facial‑recognition cameras automatically track their facial expressions and lip movement, and map that movement in real‑time onto the face of an on‑screen virtual puppet (avatar). The older adult sees their facial movements mirrored in the on‑screen puppet and can thus speak “through” the puppet. VoicingElder utilizes interactive technology to create an avatar platform to promote the older adults’ emotional engagement with life review.
Life review is a therapeutic technique that has been practiced for decades in which the older adult, guided by a group facilitator, recounts important stories from their life. Life review can help older adults integrate their life history and create a coherent sense of self. Storytelling and reminiscence are enormously important processes in old age because they nurture intergenerational sharing and communication, and allow seniors to express and strengthen their identities as they review and share their memories. Life review has been shown to improve relationships between caregivers and seniors, increase staff knowledge of the client’s backgrounds and history, and help older adults to develop a more coherent sense of self. Although life review is the primary motivation for the VoicingElder project, VoicingElder is a hybrid therapeutic tool that embraces several therapeutic traditions. Research in drama therapy, therapeutic puppetry, patient centered therapy, and avatar therapy all bring different ways to explore the user’s psyche, emotion and engagement in depth.
This paper situates VoicingElder in the context of these diverse therapeutic traditions, and further discusses the user’s emotional psyche and experiences via interactive technology. We will draw from these research traditions to explain the user’s body/mind experience as a way to examine critical issues of embodiment, transformation, distancing, and identity in electronic media.
- Neal Swisher, Virginia Commonwealth University, US, is a doctoral student in VCU’s Media, Art & Text program. He studies philosophical theories of technology, identity and embodiment in digital media and art. He previously managed the cross‑disciplinary Documentaries & the Law program at the University of Pennsylvania and worked on the digital humanities project ‘Gibagadinamaagoom,’ devoted to preserving the oral history and language of the Anishinaabe people.
- Semi Ryu, Virginia Commonwealth University, US, is a media artist who specializes in experimental 3D animations and virtual puppetry, based on Korean shamanism and oral traditions of storytelling. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinetic Imaging at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Full text (PDF) p. 122-126