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Making a difference in the lives of older adults

Jan 14, 2019

As a child growing up in China, Laura Yuqin Yang (a third-year Honours Bachelor of Interaction Design student) spent a lot of time with her grandmother. She didn’t know then that those early family memories, plus a school project at Sheridan, would spark a passion to make a difference in the lives of older adults.

The paper model that Laura Yuqin Yang designed for her Conceptual Process class, which aligned with the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research project.

For her Conceptual Process class, Yang designed a paper model that illustrated how social isolation affects older adults. While working on that project, she discovered that Sheridan has a Centre for Elder Research, and quickly offered her services. “I wanted to learn more about older adults and eventually advocate for them because we are all going to be older adults in the future,” says Yang.

Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research, celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, is dedicated to conducting applied Lab to Life® research that enhances the lives of older adults, and serves as an education and research hub for Sheridan and the broader community.

Yang’s Conceptual Process project aligned with a research project the Centre was working on, called ‘Building Connected Communities: Improving Community Supports to Reduce Loneliness and Social Isolation in Immigrants 65+.’ The project, which began in 2015, studied social isolation and loneliness in older immigrant adults and developed resources to help combat the problem. Yang came on board in 2017 as a Research Assistant.

Laura Yuqin Yang working at a computer

Yang used her interaction design skills to transform some of the research findings into a set of interactive, visual documents, including interactive maps that highlight locations with services for older immigrant adults. Yang also helped to design a toolkit that includes various learning modules, videos, data sheets, and a coping with loneliness tool for older adults. “Laura helped bring the data to life,” says Sirena Liladrie, Professor in the Social Service Worker program, who led the research project. “Little did I know before I met Laura how crucial she was going to be to the project moving forward in terms of the design elements. With the skill set that she brought from her learning in her program, she has been able to take our entire research project to a whole new level.” The interactive maps and toolkit can be used by community partners, caregivers, and other service providers who work with older adults.

Dr. Lia Tsotsos, Director of the Centre, says she is proud that the Centre offers research opportunities to students like Yang, regardless of discipline. “When we say multidisciplinary, we mean that we bring together interaction designers with social service workers, with marketing and advertising students, with network and computer programmers. We really do have students from two or three faculties working on the same projects at any given time. I’m proud that we can actually make multidisciplinary collaboration a reality and not just a buzzword.”

“I’m proud that we can actually make multidisciplinary collaboration a reality and not just a buzzword.” – Dr. Lia Tsotsos

Dr. Lia Tsotsos, Laura Yang and Sirena Liladrie standing outside of a showcase with Yang's Conceptual Design project

Liladrie agrees. “Laura’s involvement in this project speaks volumes as to why multidisciplinary work is so important. She was able to work collaboratively with professors, community workers and social service workers, her knowledge and skill set in interaction design was a needed and important piece of the puzzle.”

The project is in its final stages, and is expected to be completed by spring 2019. Yang says the project has been eye-opening, both in terms of learning about older adults, and her interactive design practice. “Working on this project has really broadened my horizons towards elder research and how older adults live,” she says. “I was able to explore accessible design, and design things with empathy, always trying to understand my end user, and how I can create designs that better help them reach their goals which may also prompt behavioural changes.”

“The project inspired me to look beyond bias and see what vivid lives older adults have that people might not expect.” – Laura Yuqin Yang

In addition to working towards completing the ‘Building Connected Communities: Improving Community Supports to Reduce Loneliness and Social Isolation in Immigrants 65+’ project, Yang has also completed a second project for the Centre for Elder Research focused on the importance music plays in older adults’ lives. “The project inspired me to look beyond bias and see what vivid lives older adults have that people might not expect,” says Yang.

Yang hopes to continue using her interaction design skills to help older adults in the future, and stresses the importance of the work the Centre does. “I love doing research for older adults because I get to know more about them and increase my understanding,” she says. “When you dive into it, you see that the work the Centre is doing is very important because there’s a growing number of older adults in society and the Centre is truly committed to advocating for them and trying to enhance their quality of life.”


Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan. 

Pictured above: Bachelor of Interaction Design student Laura Yuqin Yang (left) with Professor Sirena Liladrie from the Social Service Worker program.

Photos by Keiko Kataoka.

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