The onset of frailty in older adults brought on by continued social isolation can result in very serious consequences. Falls in older adults can cause significant physical and psychological injury to the individual, and send them to the hospital where they could contract further illness. Impaired strength and balance contribute to most falls in older adults. Improving stability requires a specific, fully tested and safe exercise programme and ongoing commitment by the older person. However, people are feeling isolated and alone, often with little motivation to keep active when there are other concerns to worry about.
Strength and balance exercises have been shown to reduce the instances of serious injury sustained in a fall in the elderly and less physically mobile. Although many, many exercise apps are available, we found the overwhelming majority are targeted at a much younger audience, both in terms of their content and usability. Creating an appropriate and accessible app for adults over the age of 65 was a priority.
What it does
Spree is an exercise app for reducing the risk of frailty in older adults, and encouraging communities to support at-risk individuals. The app consists of three user roles:
- Champions: Near-frail older adults who will be guided through accessible and appropriate exercises to maintain their mobility.
- Spotters: They will nominate and aid their Champions in the initial setup, and act as their personal coach.
- Supporters: Friends and family of the Champion cheering loudly from the sidelines. By reducing the barrier to entry, we aim to encourage more older adults to take up and continue to exercise.
A Spotter has two clear roles, onboarding and coaching. By allowing the Spotter to create their Champion’s account, we make the onboarding process simple and streamlined. Setup of new apps was found to be a pain point for a significant portion of our users. By reducing the barrier to entry, we aim to encourage more older adults to take up exercise via their smart devices.
The Spotter can create their Champion’s profile and simply send them a link to automatically access their newly created account. If they do not have the app preinstalled, the Spotter can send a link to download the app. From there, the Spotter acts as their personal coach, tailoring and managing the program to suit their Champion.
The Champion is provided with exercises that are appropriate to their frailty level, as catalogued by the spotter and a baseline frailty test. Exercise instructions are delivered in a clear and concise manner, using a combination of text and looped videos. The Champion has the choice to follow along with the exercise videos at their own pace, or to call their Spotter to remotely exercise and have them coach the Champion through it.
At the heart of Spree, we want our users to keep active. We want them to feel the support and motivation that they deserve, and to eventually be driven to keep exercising for themselves. We researched many different methods of motivation in the digital space, from anonymous likes to personal messages. We also looked into successful initiatives that lean into communal support, such as Operation Transformation.
The friends and family of the Champion are invited to download the Spree Supporter app, a separate companion app solely devoted to noisily and proudly cheering on your fitness heroes. On the Champion completing an exercise, the Supporters receive a notification prompt to congratulate them. They can do this in the form of a pre-generated encouraging message for convenience, or by sending a personalised message of support. Any personalised messages are sent to the Spotter for approval before being passed onto the Champion. This support system is in place so as a family, a neighbourhood, or even a local GAA club can rally behind their local heroes and cheer them on during their fitness adventure.
How we built it
We began by looking at who is at risk of becoming frail, and creating user personas based around these individuals. We reached out to people from this category and interviewed them about the topic. Following this we reached out to physiotherapists who deal with frailty on a day-to-day basis to get their insights. We also looked at treatments from around the world. Once we had our research grounding, we then moved to looking at the methods with which we would get people active. Looking at different types of motivators, we focused on support and encouragement.
We collaborated using the Whimsical platform to develop affinity diagrams, user personas, user flows and early wireframes. From there, we migrated to using the Adobe suite programs for our final outcomes: Adobe XD was used to build the final high fidelity prototype, while a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator were used to create the graphic assets.
Challenges we ran into
A significant challenge we faced was designing our solution during strict lockdown restrictions. This not only separated the design team from one another, but separated us from our elderly and near-frail contacts who we could have tested the experience with.
However, diligent research allowed us to continue on with our project, and still produce rich insights and outcomes at an exceptionally high quality. We remotely carried out interviews with key stakeholders, from physiotherapists and at-risk elederly, to learn more about the physical and motivational challenges at hand.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
It was a joy to design for such a worthy cause, and we are very proud of the solutions we developed. In particular, we were quite proud of our design for the Spotter profile. Rather than focus our efforts solely on creating a design model and UI that worked for all of our elderly users, we noticed the potential of developing a companion role. By offloading any friction from the onboarding process onto an invested companion, be they friends or family, we reduce the barrier to entry for our Champions. Similarly, the Spotters can act as companions throughout the exercise journey, joining their Champions for movement sessions, monitoring their progress, providing motivation, and contacting medical professionals should they notice anything worrying.
Similarly, we are very proud of our design for the community motivation aspect to the project. Learning from such initiatives as Operation Transformation, we recognised the potential power community backing has to raise the spirits of those exercising. While biometric data, such as step counters and calories burned, might be meaningful to younger individuals, we identified that generally people of all age groups are more likely to keep up a habit if there is a social aspect to it. The friends and family of the Champion are invited to download the Spree Supporter app, a separate companion app solely devoted to noisily and proudly cheering on your fitness heroes. On the Champion completing an exercise, the Supporters receive a notification prompt to congratulate them. They can do this in the form of a pre-generated encouraging message for convenience, or in sending a personalised message of support. Any personalised messages are sent to the Spotter for approval before being passed onto the Champion. This support system is in place so as a family, a neighbourhood, or even a local GAA club can rally behind their local heroes and cheer them on during their fitness adventure.
What we learned
Our focus was always to encourage and support people in order to motivate them to keep going. Through research we investigated what drives people to exercise, and what motivates them to keep up habits in general. Involvement with family and friends was high on that list, and became an insight that drove our design iterations throughout the process. Another key discovery was of the Otago Exercise Program. The Otago Exercise Programme was chosen as our exercise content after consultation with several medical practitioners, and was chosen for its success rate in preventing serious falls by as much as 35 - 40%. Improving stability requires a specific, fully tested and safe exercise programme and ongoing commitment by the older person. The OEP consists of 17 strength and balance exercises and a walking program, performed three times a week. It also details how the programme provider should manage and check-in with the older adult.Overall, general practice of the program has significant health benefits for near-frail individuals, and we aimed to find a way to deliver this program in a remote-friendly way.
What's next for Spree
The app would need further development and maintenance. We would need to develop our smaller companion app for our Supporter community. We would also need to record our exercises for the app in order to ensure that the specific frailty exercises are captured and shown in the correct way. Once the app is launched and active there is a massive opportunity for sponsorship from local businesses to get involved and offer monthly rewards. Similarly, there is great scope for the app to partner with existing Irish exercise & well beings apps (eg. MyLife by Irish Life) and established initiatives that deliver exercise programmes to older adults (eg. Siel Bleu Ireland).