their natural settings, we found that the families
successfully collaborated to combat the memory
issues in a number of ways.
• Important information was stored and
exchanged between family members and external artifacts. The artifacts served as mechanisms
around which family members organized their
activities and updated their schedules.
• Even though individual strategies for coping
with amnesia involve repetition, I was surprised to
see that the entire family was involved in repetitive processes to increase the reliability and availability of information.
• Families succeeded because they worked
together very closely, as a unit. For example, family members often kept track of daily events of their
relative with amnesia and would provide reminders throughout the day.
While the families succeeded in working together, they faced difficulties because of the memory
• Primary caregivers reported that they were
overwhelmed with the amount of information they
needed to manage, such as their own appointments, appointments of the care recipient, medication dosages, and various reminders. This led
to increased effort and was a significant burden
on caregivers, some of whom gave up full-time
employment to make time to perform these activities.
• Family members differed in their opinions
about what was important to remember or wh o
should do the work of recording it. This often
resulted in important information being left unrecorded.
• The amount of effort required and differences
in opinions appeared to evoke high levels of stress
2. Automate redundancy, synchronization, and tight
Technologies to help families remember
together can be useful, but designing collaborative tools for multiple users in multiple locations
poses some challenges. Designers should allow
users to access information from multiple places,
have information from various artificial sources
automatically synchronize to maintain accuracy,
and enable family members to work together
even when they are not in the same place.
3. Increase awareness of information access and
Families wanted to know when and how other
people processed information. It is important
for assistive technologies to provide information
about whether family members received information and whether they took correct actions
upon receiving it.
Presently, families work hard to adapt artifacts
not designed with family systems in mind. Hence,
rather than just focusing on individual rehabilitation, as designers and practitioners we should shift
our focus to the rehabilitation of the entire family
system and place our efforts in designing collaborative rehabilitation technologies.
[ 1] Wu, M., Baecker,
R., and B. Richards.
of an orientation aid
for amnesics.” In
CHI 2005: Conference
on Human Factors in
[ 2] Hersh, N., and L.
The rehabilitation of
tion by prosthetic
memory and cueing.”
This research would not have been possible
without the guidance of my supervisor, Dr. Ron
Baecker, and my collaborators, Dr. Brian Richards
from Baycrest, Dr. Jeremy Birnholtz from Cornell
University, and Mike Massimi from the University
Design Implications for Assistive Technologies
Our findings suggest that new tools that facilitate
shared remembering, discussion, and coordination can be useful. Here are several strategies for
improving the design of assistive technologies and
for facilitating information sharing in families:
1. Make reliable storage easy and available
Families frequently accessed and recorded
important information, and this needed to be
done quickly and reliably. Therefore, recording and access to information must be easy and
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mike Wu is a Ph.D. student in computer science under the supervision of
Professor Ron Baecker at the University of Toronto.
Mike’s research interests include assistive technologies, interactive computer tabletops, and educational games for children. He has worked in the
Collaborative User Experience group at IBM Research and the
DiamondSpace team at Mitsubishi Electronic Research Labs. Mike
holds an M.Sc. from the University of Toronto and a B.Sc. from the
University of British Columbia. For more information, please visit:
[ 3] Wu, M., J. Birnholtz,
R. Richards, R. Baecker,
and M. Massimi.
remember: a distributed
cognition account of
families coping with
In Proceedings of ACM
CHI 2008 Conference
on Human Factors in
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