A web-based mobile app with a smartwatch to support social engagement in persons with memory loss: Pilot randomized controlled trial

Hayley R. McCarron*, Rachel Zmora, Joseph E. Gaugler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: It is estimated that the number of individuals living with dementia worldwide will increase from 50 million in 2017 to 152 million by 2050. Assistive technology has been recognized as a promising tool to improve the lives of persons living with memory loss and their caregivers. The use of assistive technology in dementia care is expanding, although it is most often intended to manage care and promote safety. There is a lack of assistive technology designed to aid persons with memory loss in participating in meaningful activities. The Social Support Aid (SSA) is a mobile phone-based app that employs facial recognition software. It was designed to assist persons with memory loss remember the names and relationships of the people they interact with to promote social engagement. Objective: This study uses a pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) design to evaluate the SSA. The objectives were to ascertain (1) the feasibility and utility of the SSA, (2) whether the outcomes of SSA use suggest potential benefits for persons living with memory loss and their care partners, and (3) how study design components could inform subsequent RCTs. Methods: Persons with memory loss were randomized to the SSA (n=20) or the usual care control group (n=28). Quantitative data were collected at three timepoints (baseline, 3 months, and 6 months). Participants in the intervention group participated in qualitative interviews following completion of their 6-month survey. Results: Participant eligibility, willingness to be randomized, and retention were not barriers to conducting a full-scale RCT; however, recruitment strategies should be addressed before doing so. Feasibility and utility scores indicated that participants felt neutral about the technology. Use of the SSA was not significantly associated with changes in quality of social interactions or quality of life measures over the 6 months of follow-up (P>.05). The qualitative analysis revealed three themes that described how and why the SSA worked or not: (1) outcomes, (2) reasons why it was or was not useful, and (3) recommendations. Conclusions: There is a need to develop effective assistive technology that improves the quality of life of persons with memory loss. Assistive technology that allows persons living with memory loss to maintain some level of autonomy should be a priority for future research. This study suggests reasons why the SSA facial recognition software did not appear to improve the quality of social interaction and quality of life of people with memory loss. Results also provide recommendations for future assistive technology development and evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13378
JournalJMIR Aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Alzheimer disease
  • Dementia
  • Facial recognition
  • Quality of life
  • Smartwatch
  • Social engagement
  • Social support
  • Technology
  • Well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Gerontology
  • Health Informatics
  • Health(social science)


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