How "senior friendly" is that bistro?
New app helps seniors develop database
A newly-released app lets seniors rate the ‘age-friendliness’ of restaurants, community centres, libraries, crosswalks, shopping centres and public transit in their city ― and share their ratings with others.
“It empowers older adults to evaluate what’s senior-friendly and what’s not,” says one of the app’s creators, Alex Mihailidis, an associate professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at the University of Toronto, and a core faculty member of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Computer Science.
Users rate locations on things like general accessibility, availability of seating, lighting levels, staff attitudes and background music levels. The app then produces an overall rating, based on the World Health Organization’s age-friendly cities guidelines.
The app uses GPS to pinpoint the user’s location, no matter which city they live in worldwide and is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. People can simply browse the database to see which locations and services in a neighbourhood are considered “age-friendly” and why.
“This is a new way for seniors to create a crowd-sourced database of age-friendly locations,” said Mihailidis.
The Age-CAP (Age-friendly Communities Assessment ApP) was developed by researchers at U of T and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute with funding from Toronto Rehab, and is owned by Toronto Rehab-UHN.
The team hopes the app will promote ‘active’ aging, encouraging seniors to get out and about in the community. Social isolation in the elderly can lead to depression and physical problems, such as loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
There’s also a safety dimension.
“Already, people are using the app to warn others about dangerous crosswalks, and subway stops that don’t have elevators,” says Mihailidis.
Some of the features users can rate, by indicating agreement or disagreement on a scale of one to five, include:
• Restaurants: “The menu and bill were written in a legible font and size.”
• Community centres: “A senior’s discount is offered on classes and memberships.”
• Libraries: “Advertisements for seniors programming were readily displayed.”
• Crosswalks: “I had enough time to cross at the crosswalk during the allotted time.”
• Shopping centres: “There were areas to sit and rest.”
• Public transit: “There was appropriate shade available during my wait.”
People can also offer general comments, and create new categories for locations or services they wish to rate.
Will seniors embrace the app? Mihailidis points to an upward trend in mobile technology use among seniors, citing statistics that suggest between 30 and 70 per cent are using smart-phone devices.
As the app’s database grows, it can be used to advocate for improvements that make cities more senior-friendly, says Mihailidis. He hopes businesses, including restaurants, and municipal politicians will take note of the ratings.
Mihailidis developed the Age-CAP app with Barry Trentham, an assistant professor in U of T’s Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and U of T students Manas Bhatnagar (clinical engineering) and Jennifer Jimmo (occupational therapy). Mihailidis is a senior scientist and the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in Rehabilitation Technology at Toronto Rehab-UHN.