Innovation in envisioning dynamic biomechanical data to inform healthcare and design practice

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This proposal is concerned with gaining benefit from understanding the value of scientific data obtained from older adults during daily living tasks which will be visualized in an innovative format. The main aim is to facilitate cross-disciplinary discourse and to develop insights about the ageing experience using a process and an innovative tool which empower older adults to participate on an equal basis with specialist disciplines, a process intended to influence care and rehabilitation strategies, ways of thinking about the design of the built environment, furniture, products and technological devices, and to determine quality-of-life issues and extent of working capabilities and daily living activities in later life.


  • Prof Alastair Macdonald, The Glasgow School of Art
  • Prof Sandy Nicol, University of Strathclyde


  • Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity (SPARC)
  • Learning in Later Life (University of Strathclyde)
  • Age Concern Scotland
  • Journey Associates

Contact details

Alastair Macdonald


The objectives, are for the researchers to determine if and to what extent this new visual and dynamic format of envisioning data:

  1. deepens understanding, within each of the separate disciplines, of the experience of ageing particularly with reference to the stresses on muscles and joints in older people during daily living and working activities and how this affects health, performance, motivation, and quality of life;

  2. facilitates new insights into age-related mobility and capability issues, the experience of ageing in the 60+, 70+ and 80+ age groups;

  3. facilitates discourse across a range of relevant disciplines concerned with health, rehabilitation, design, and quality of life issues in older adults; 4) facilitates and empowers older ‘lay’ people to participate in the process of research through discourse with specialist disciplines by contributing with their own perspective and life experiences; 5) has the potential to improve practice and recommendations for a) rehabilitation and care plans, b) design practice, and c) planning for extended work and leisure activities in later life.

Further objectives are:

  1. to develop and utilise processes and tools that will allow older adults as lay individuals to participate and contribute to policies and practices that influence their quality of life and well-being;

  2. to demonstrate the advantages of envisioning data in a dynamic form to promote cross-disciplinary discourse,

  3. to develop the understanding of the experiences of ageing through the use of this innovative tool;

  4. to utilise this tool to support innovative interdisciplinary research groupings;

  5. to use this process as a means of improving and innovating in areas of policy and practice that influence well-being and quality of life issues for working and living activities in older adults;

  6. to develop a process, and tool, and involve a range of disciplines and individuals that can explore qualitative issues arising from quantitative data.


Phase I

Processing of biomechanical data already acquired from 84 subjects each performing 11 daily living activities into the required format for the visualisation software.

Phase 2

These biomechanical data sets will be utilised for processing using software scripts to produce video animations for each activity by each individual. A selection of these would be made for the focus group sessions described below.

Phase 3

Client profiles will be developed for those in the 60+, 70+ and 80+ categories who will be selected, as far as possible, to represent a mixture of sex, different social background, and ability - from active to frail - corresponding to the age cohorts of the individuals represented in the data described above. Representatives of the range of specialist disciplines, i.e. bioengineers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, human factors consultants, designers, psychologists, a gerontologist, healthcare and nursing specialists, will be selected from established research groups and networks.

Phase 4

Interviews of clients and professionals will be conducted to identify key issues affecting mobility and quality of life in all separate groups.

Phase 5

Focus groups will provide a forum for showing the visualized data animations to the different groups separately and together, to use these as a platform and means for prompting focussed. This will be followed by a qualitative analysis of Phase 4 and Phase 5 data.

Phase 6

A SPARC-supported 2-day national workshop and seminar in late autumn 2008. This will be an essential platform for disseminating, obtaining feedback on, and for validating the initial findings obtained as a result of the process described above.


Stills from visualisations showing comparison of three different individuals lifting an object from a high to a low shelf: (left) 74 year old female with no apparent problems – note knees and hips are shown green; (middle) 81 year old male, osteoarthritis of knees – note red and orange indicated at the knees; and (right) 67 year old male, history of back problems and history of fractures – note red and orange at hips.

Stills from animations: comparison of a 67 year old male with a history of back problems and of fractures rising from a chair in two different ways (top row) using arm rests (bottom row) without using arm rests.

Policy implications

In the development of an innovative manner of visualising scientific data acquired from older adults performing daily living tasks, the key research issues are to determine to what extent this new visual and dynamic format of envisioning data helps:

  1. deepen understanding within each of the separate stakeholder disciplines of issues affecting mobility and quality of life;

  2. facilitate discourse about and develop new insights into these issues across the range of disciplines;

  3. facilitate older people to articulate a narrative of their experiences of what is being viewed;

  4. empower older ‘lay’ people and non-academics to engage in the research discourse, and elevate their status;

  5. contribute to improved and more holistic practices;

  6. assist with planning for increasing age and extended activity in later life, rehabilitation and care plans, and designs of the built environment.

We would expect this work to inform and facilitate change in policy and practice concerned with the general wellbeing of older adults, particularly in the design (in the broadest sense) of their environments and in planning a number of aspects of their healthcare, through the greater involvement of older adults themselves, and through increased interdisciplinary research communication and practice.

With respect to the ‘new dynamics of ageing and the changing patterns of living and working’, we feel these insights will be essential to inform what is safe, achievable, desirable and will contribute to the general wellbeing of older individuals, particularly in scenarios of the extension to the length of working life, daily living, and in a range of activities such as exercise regimes in later life which have a bearing on the ‘autonomy and independence’ of older people.


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