UX Research | Voice Interaction | Cognitive Accessibility

Supporting aging in place for people with MCI or ADRD

CLIENT: IQ Solutions

DURATION: August- May 2021

TOOLS: Figma, AfterEffect, Preimier, Voiceflow and Miro

ROLE: UX Researcher & Designer

TEAM: Shive Ghasemi, Eli Kumar, Harmit Sampat, Matthew Ryson,

Nat DeMonthon, Yichong Zhang



How might we design a low-cost smart speaker solution that supports and motivates individuals living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias(ADRD), so they can age in place for longer?




A Personalized Voice Assistant as a Companion

Care+ is a low-cost smart speaker system that offers people with cognitive impairments a new way to live independently by promoting mental and physical wellbeing through motivational prompts and in-context reminders.


What’s in the system?


1. Motivational nuggets
We researched different methods of motivational techniques, which are integrated into the prompts Alexa gives to motivate the user. with motivational techniques such as the Goldilocks Rule, progress streaks, and family recordings.

2. AI-based activity suggestions
Initial onboarding weighs suggestions, then asks more questions over time.
Contextual info such as weather, holidays, and empty time on the user’s calendar.

3. Proximity-based reminders
The smart speaker speaks to the user only when they are nearby, especially when they are close to a specific task.

4. Companion device / motivational coach
The system recognizes progress and streaks to further motivate the user. Progressive intensity for some tasks.
Conversational and friendly tone.



We ran a series of 5 successive design sprints for the duration of one year. Along the way, the Google Venture's Design Sprint methodology was adapted based on our understanding of the project's requirements. We also modified the structure in a way that would be more suited to a remote environment.


Our journey throughout the year



Detecting Proximity

There are many task reminder systems on the market that utilize smart speakers, but none seem to address proximity to the speaker. We presented a concept that utilized Bluetooth beacons, smartwatches & speakers to provide proximity-based medication reminders.


Activity Recommendations

We found out that medication adherence was not a compelling enough use case, so we turned our attention towards supporting users’ hobbies, skills, and interests with basic task assistance. Staying socio-cognitively active is key to staying in the MCI stage of ADRD for longer


Motivational Prompts 

After realizing that the challenge was not really about supporting users during the activity but motivating them to engage in the activity — the system was enhanced to provide personalized prompts using various motivational techniques which help users keep track of the activities they love. We also and focused on incorporating our two use cases of gardening and guided mindful stretching.


Onboarding Exploration

Since participants wanted a high level of customization, we decided that onboarding would be the most important next step in Sprint 4. We wanted to figure out how to ask just enough questions of the user to get the most immediate functionality from the system without being too cumbersome.



Conversation Design + Wizard of Oz Approach

Use an improv wizard of oz testing format to better understand how users would interact with the system. We also continued expanding on conversation design in Voiceflow.



What we learned about our users

  • The MCI population we’ve spoken to tends to skew younger (30s-60s) and more tech-savvy.

  • Target user group likely doesn’t have a formal caregiver yet-- individuals with MCI still complete most tasks independently.

  • Joyful and motivational aspects are helpful for those with MCI, but likely less helpful for later stages when people go more with the flow.

  • Many people don’t get diagnosed until after moderate stages of ADRD -- we need to be able to implement this system before a formal diagnosis.



  • Transition from analog design sprints and product design sprints and adaptation to the remote Design Sprint in pandemic
  • Participants recruitment
  • Older adults have some degree of technical difficulties while using Zoom for our interviews. 


  • We shouldn’t reinvent the wheel-- users like the calendar apps they currently use, so we should integrate with them rather than replace them. We should also integrate with any current devices they have, rather than trying to replace them.
  • Users are willing to sacrifice some privacy if it means they can age in place for longer.
  • Onboarding and setup for this system needs to be simplified as much as possible.
  • People have methods of remembering to take medication, so we should present more compelling use cases in our scenario.
  • The Design Sprint methodology is just an outline; we need to adjust it to our own practices and team composition.
  • We shouldn’t try to fully explain the inner workings of the system during interviews-- it becomes too much of a focus instead of the conceptual features we really want to test.