How Human-Centered Design Can Improve Technology for Aging Populations and Individuals with Cognitive Concerns

with Amanda Lazar,

Associate Professor, University of Maryland

This week on the Art of Aging, host Michael Hughes welcomes Amanda Lazar, researcher and associate professor at the University of Maryland. During the episode, Amanda discusses her work at the intersection of human-computer interactions and health informatics. She shares her journey into the field, emphasizing the importance of human-centered design in creating technology for older adults, especially those with cognitive impairments. The conversation covers challenges and misconceptions about dementia, the role of art therapy, the need for practical, accessible technology, and so much more.
Play Video


Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Amanda’s journey into human-centered design (0:44)
  • Challenges in designing technology for older adults (3:13)
  • Redefining value in people with dementia (5:11)
  • Personal motivation in dementia research (8:02)
  • Projects in art therapy for people with dementia (9:09)
  • The influence of environment on technology use (14:10)
  • Journey mapping in technology design (17:43)
  • Understanding technology use in intimate experiences (21:16)
  • Human-Centered Design and Cognitive Concerns (23:11)
  • Sensory Changes and Accessibility Features (26:07)
  • AI Applications and Designing for Cognitive Challenges (27:54)
  • Embodied Interactions and Sensory Experiences (35:05)
  • Abundant Aging Questions for Amanda (39:14)
  • Final thoughts and takeaways (43:32)
  • Connecting with Amanda and her research (45:10)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Michael Hughes 00:00
Hi there and welcome to this episode of The Art of Aging, which is from the abundant aging podcast series from United Church Homes. And on this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire everyone everywhere to age with abundance. And today, I’m pleased to welcome Amanda Lazar to the show as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies where she directs the health, aging and technology lab, which is conveniently an acronym. And it’s that lab. So Amanda directs that lab. Amanda’s work lies at the intersection of human computer interactions and health informatics. She’s a passionate supporter and a user of human centered design principles as a pathway to better solutions for all of us as we age with specific interest and those diagnosed with cognitive impairment. So yeah, human centered design. Dr. Lazar, received a PhD from the University of Washington in the biomedical and health informatics program, and then went on to postdoctoral research in the technology and social behavior program at Northwestern University. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Library of Medicine, and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. Amanda, thank you, and welcome. Thank you for having me. And just a reminder that this podcast series is sponsored by the United Church homes Ruth Frost Parker center for abundant aging. To learn more about the center, including our annual symposium in October, please visit www DOT United Church So Amanda, I have been looking forward to this conversation. And we had a great time chatting at the E to collective conference in Philadelphia back in March, where we just wowed by your presentation on human centered design. Definitely a kindred spirit. Because, you know, we aspire to do those same things here at United Church homes with our residents. But you know, how did you get involved with this? What is really driving your passion? In this space?

Amanda Lazar 02:00
Yes. So I started out in the more technical area, starting with a degree in electrical engineering, but I became really interested in the human side of things and wanting to understand how design could happen there. And I became interested in aging. So it started out actually as a happy accident. So I started researching with a lab and undergrad, and they happened to be doing a project with older people. And I really enjoyed it. And then I kept working with this group and kept working with this group and still have not stopped.

Michael Hughes 02:32
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And is there has there always been I wonder if there’s like kind of a trigger moment for you when you yourself because you know, being an engineer, engaging with new solutions, design problems, development problems, you know, and I think human centered design has been a concept that may have always been out there maybe by another name or so. But was there an instance in your you know, in your career path where you just saw it being done wrong? You know, you saw that? Or is there just something that you’ve just generally observed in the world when design doesn’t work? Doing what isn’t friendly? Is that something that really kind of fired you up?

Amanda Lazar 03:12
I think so I think when it comes to designing technologies, older people, we, you can almost see it as almost sometimes it feels like we’re trying to take all these sensors and outfit people and know every single thing they’re doing and everything they’re going to do next, and basically trying to get them safely from the beginning of the day to the end of the day, right. And the things we’re trying to help people do are really important taking medication that is really important, right? Being safe in your home is really important. But it also I think some of it comes or a lot of it, I think comes from a perspective of us trying to protect a different group. And I think so in my work, I look at a lot of other research that’s kind of critically reflecting on this and also engage myself and my students in exercises to think of well, you know, what, if someone was thinking about the kinds of things we’re doing in that way, and trying to, you know, you can kind of realize how it starts to feel a little patronizing, sometimes so, so trying to look at the full spectrum of things we could be doing versus the way we tend to go when we incorporate technology into working with older people. And that’s why I really became so excited about this space, because the space of design technology for older people is because a lot of it looks a certain way. And there’s so many opportunities. Because of that right to for example, designing for kind of intergenerational knowledge exchange is something that there’s so much exciting space there that we could be doing, where older people aren’t just being taken care of, but they’re also being you know, using their skills to help others for example, then my work in dementia, it’s what I’ve described an aging but you know, 100 fold there. We’ve really been thinking in very specific ways about what people with dementia, who they are, what they can do and designing technology corded Like, so if we could get a little creative about how we think about people, spend more time with them, again, read the literature on it. That opens up the technology space quite a bit as well.

Michael Hughes 05:10
Yeah. And you know, what you’re talking about are people with cognitive challenges, dementia and so on. I mean, I keep thinking there’s a lot of misnomers about this. And you know, that people think that there may be no hope to connect with people that, you know, are maybe in the later stages of dementia, and things of that sort, and just seems to be this, this sort of conflict that we have where, you know, at what point do we think people have agency and they don’t, but has your research really kind of, you know, uncovered, that there is much more agency with people with dementia than people might think? Definitely,

Amanda Lazar 05:48
yes. And I think what you’re talking about is that soon people with dementia can’t interact. There’s a couple places that’s coming from right. And one that’s easier for me to talk about is the kind of stereotypes we as a society have, you know, movies you see about someone completely losing themselves, you know, and not being able to do anything anymore, and things slowly fading, or the way that, you know, on TV, they’re advertising a certain medication, they say, dementia patients should not be taking this medication. So there’s all kinds of things like dehumanization, other things that can just happen around people to make jokes about dementia. But I think the harder one is that a lot of people have family experiences with people who’ve developed dementia, right? And there, I can come in and say, oh, people, you know, with dementia, there’s all these continuing abilities, but you’re also coming up against this, you know, a very real sense of loss and grief, sometimes. So that being said, right, understanding that people’s, you know, these ideas about people who have dementia, what they are and aren’t able to do come from places that are very understandable. At the same time, we can shift our viewpoint, and also, again, look at these bodies of literature that academics have,

Michael Hughes 07:04
I have to ask, you know, if you’re talking about this subject of going into this, I mean, I think that you’re going into this research a layer deeper than I’ve seen others. I mean, I think that the insights that you have, into this world of people with cognitive issues, with, you know, sort of just all the societal tropes around, you know, this isn’t an epidural part of aging that people it’s like a second or third rail that people don’t want to talk, but it talks about, but I got to think that there must be just, you know, that this is an area that you have wondered about, that fascinates you, that really does compel you. And I’m wondering if there was just a switch that was turned on, as you went through your research journey? Or if there was just like, you know, what keeps you turning the pages of the book, here to further and further into this investigation? Yeah.

Amanda Lazar 08:02
So I think that, okay, so I think that along my research journey, at the same time, in my personal life, I had a family member who was starting to experience a very beloved very close family member who was starting to experience symptoms of cognitive impairment along with another progressive, neurodegenerative condition. So I really think that a lot of my work has actually been doing all this research, reading all this literature, conducting, you know, gathering all this data and doing all this analysis, and then tying it together to say, hey, this person is still important. You know, yes, he was, you know, the smartest guy ever knew could do everything. And now he can’t do that stuff. But he’s still important. He’s still valuable. And he is here. And we, you know, we need to sit up and accept who he is now.

Michael Hughes 08:52
Yeah. So tell us about your research work right now, just if you could to describe, you know, just sort of the body of projects, or at least the, you know, the sort of, I don’t know if there’s a central thesis that you’re going after, or if there’s just a number of different investigations. But if you could describe that for our audience. I think

Amanda Lazar 09:09
so in the journey I’m talking about right. So that first phase of work, though, that was to say, okay, so people with cognitive impairment are still here are still important. Well, if so much of what we value is based on, you know, what people can do, how fast they are, or how quick they are with a witty response, then how, you know, how can we think about things differently so that we can still see the contribution of people with dementia. So in these projects, I was working with more people with advanced dementia with people with more advanced dementia. I did a series of projects with two amazing collaborators and repaper and Carolyn desus. And we were doing this in the context of art therapy. Caroline is an amazing art therapist. So we were looking first at the ways that our therapists worked with people with dementia because if you’ve ever seen somebody in art therapy or since they come out of it People are making these stunning, you know, works of art really? Right? And then you look at the person who made it. And it’s someone who, as we found in the research, right, other people are surprised about, they say, how could that person have done this, right? So we studied the role of the art therapist and how they’re engaged in facilitating these interactions. And we found out that they do things like kind of supporting when needed, and then fading in the background. So for example, you know, guiding someone to the elbow, if they’re having a tremor, they’ll guide their elbow when they need it. But then as soon as the person starts kind of taking off, they’ll disappear back, right, all these different kinds of things that help the person, you know, get them to the point where they can release their real talent traits with a piece of artwork. Clearly each person’s artwork looks different. We saw different people have different styles, and really beautiful, you know, beautiful expressions. And that is actually understanding it in that way, actually, is a bigger thing, because this is about how, who we are. And what we are able to do actually has to do with the environment we’re in, and the social support we have. And this is everyone, right? So for me, if on the podcast, I start to stumble, you’re gonna throw out a question that helps me get back into it, right? Yeah. But when someone has dementia, first of all, a lot of people feel very awkward, so they don’t know what to do. So they might stop, right? If someone starts to stumble or forget a word, you’re like, do I throw it out there? Oh, what’s happening yet, so no, people kind of withdraw and don’t keep reminding us. And also people with dementia do have different needs, some of their needs are different, they need different kinds of support. So studying this very, these very skilled supporters and people to mentor was really interesting to think about, okay, well, is there a way, you know, could this be a model for what our technologies could do is a way for technology to be kind of supportive, get people to their best place, and then slip back versus, you know, maybe taking over, for example? That was one thing we learned from our therapist. And then the other thing was about going back to this idea of like, how can we value? Okay, so if we’re not valuing people based on their productivity, or their ability to, you know, be super Swift, or, you know, all these things that we are so valuable in our society, right, a lot of our jobs are based on these things. Right? My job certainly is right? Well, then is there a different kind of basis from which we can see value? So for that project, that’s where these continuing abilities came in more because they’re, we’re looking at things that instead of just thinking about the things that people dimension lose, what about the people the things that they maintain? Right, so things like, so in our therapy, right, you’re seeing these embodied interaction with material, so it picks up a paintbrush, and they can pay, right, they can have the sensory experiences with that, right, moving it over the paper, enjoying the music, while they’re listening or, you know, participate in music, you hear a lot about that one, that’s one of the I think, more famous continuing abilities, this connection to music, or the emotion thing. So people with dementia retain the ability to experience, you know, our range of emotions. And another is social people maintain that ability to be socially connected and want to be socially connected with others. And you’ll see this because sometimes, if you speak with someone that then fans, you know, moderate to advanced images. Sometimes we focus on whether the words are making sense. But a different perspective says, Oh, we’re having that back and forth, right? People know when to take turns talking. People know that they’re contributing to conversation, working towards a satisfying social interaction. People want to take care of other people, for example, there’s a number of different ways they can do that even without maybe having the, you know, that same speed or productivity that that others do. Wow,

Michael Hughes 13:44
well, I want to get to this idea of environment, because you mentioned that the environment can enable or disable a, you know, productive outcomes or successful sessions, what is it about? What is it about the environment that makes it that influencer and what makes a good environment versus a bad environment? If we’re talking about supporting those with cognitive decline? Yeah,

Amanda Lazar 14:10
That’s a good question. And I think the answer to this comes partially from again, almost like societal views, especially when we’re thinking about technology. And I’ll connect this to technology besides it. If we think about people as robots, right, like, you know, I’m gonna do my thing. Today, I’m going to go about and do the laundry and finish my task, and then you know, I’m done. Then the environment is not important, right? But if we think about how people exist in the world, and I’m getting subtle cues from the things around me, and, you know, as I’m folding, it’s not just my brain saying, I’m going to fold the thing that rather, you know, my hands know the feel. I didn’t do overtrain because I don’t know if you can, but you know, my hands feel like this fabric and I should be folding like, right, right? It’s easier to do the context of something like that. So then you start to see how it matters, right? Or if it’s okay, I’m hanging up my laundry outside, but it’s actually frozen outside, right. So that’s not going to work. So our environment is really connected to a lot of things we do, even though I do think sometimes, you know, as we use technology, we kind of forget about that, because we feel like we’re sitting at our computer, you know, we’re not really our, our bodies not so involved our environment. So once we bring that back into it, right, so how, and then Okay, so there’s that. But then also, in terms of some of the continuing abilities I spoke about, right, a lot of them do have to do with the environment, your sense of your senses, right? A lot of data is coming from the environment around you. Social interactions, that’s, you know, happening in this space. And when you think about some of the things that are lost again, right? Are challenges more challenges with memory? Well, we get a lot of cues from our environment, right? Not everything is coming from my kind of crystallized memory of my name is Amanda Lazar, and I did this that right, sometimes you kind of get to go on autopilot, because the things in your environment are supporting, how you actually say that those are just a couple of ways. And that brings us to some of the current work that I’m doing with my students. And that is where we’re trying to look at the ways not just the design of the technology itself as being the thing we have to design for. But there’s a lot of bigger spheres of things that actually influence our ability to use technology. So for example, I have a student, Alicia Proudhon, who is now a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and she was examining things like outlet placement, and how that affects where you know, where your technology can be in your house. Right? Yeah, of course. And these are things that when we do user centered design, right, we’re saying, hey, let’s design the most amazing technology that’ll serve all your needs. But sometimes, that means we leave behind those details like Marcel that things like connecting to WiFi. And that’s become such a problem. You know, for so many people, these kinds of things that fall outside, when we think of technology design, how to do that, I think they feel very kind of mundane, or boring or non important. But I think these are some of the biggest challenges. And we have when it comes to technology for aging.

Michael Hughes 17:08
In this, this is almost like, you know, when you’re talking about human centered design principles here, you know, we’re talking about sort of the journey mapping part of it. I mean, one of the examples that we like to use when we teach human centered design choices, we always go to, well, I’m Canadian, so I call them bank machines. You guys call them ATMs. But the fact that you now get your if you want to take out money, you put your card in, you type in your pin, you type in whatever you want, and then you get your card first, and then you get your cash second, but that’s not how it always was. I mean, it used to be you got your cash first, and your card second, second, and people would leave their cards in the machine all the time, right? So when you’re talking about this whole world of not just the technology, but the plug in the Wi Fi, it sounds to me a lot like just this sort of journey mapping exercise that we often find in human centered design, or is that something that you kind of incorporate into your work?

Amanda Lazar 18:06
Well, it’s funny because my current PhD student, Ray Poole, who is exactly trying to work out how to think about this in the context of video conferencing, for people listening about their memory, right, because he found so he has been doing some studies to understand how people and this is people were calling with cognitive concerns. And we could talk about something that’s interesting. But dementia is such a stigmatizing word. And not everyone has a diagnosis of dementia back in the day, whether someone has a medical diagnosis, how much does that matter versus kind of the symptoms are experiencing for technology. But that’s a whole other topic. So anyways, in his research, he found things like people were using the calendar, right, the digital calendar was actually a very important part of preparing for a zoom call, or the link, someone sends you an email, right? And people will write themselves notes to remember to get on a call at certain times. And so to have a successful video conferencing experience, there’s actually all these kinds of backstage work that go into it. So he did an analysis of this thinking of this in terms of almost like a theater performance, right, using thinking about the front stage and the backstage work, which led him to find all these things that are happening in the background, which was really cool. That’s

Michael Hughes 19:22
a really interesting framework to kind of describe that and that’s, that’s actually very cool. Kind of reminds me in the way that they kind of do the whole hospitality view and it’s a whole thing that’s actually fit to actually bring that in. That strikes me That’s very cool.

Amanda Lazar 19:35
Yeah, it was really cool. And then that led him to this next part which is like what you’re tired of this kind of journey, nothing of like okay, so he got these little glimpses into this background work people are doing well. Okay, so now how do you work kind of systematically to understand what people are doing? Because he also felt things like different device characteristics matter to someone. For some calls, a phone was okay, right, but for others because they really needed their laptop or something like that, or like, you know, this device was really old and lagging and you know, so the, but it was better for this, right? So these trade offs, people are making these different, but these different things in their environment are all a part of it. So they’re just designing because when I first started working in space, I was like, Okay, how can we design a video conferencing application that’s more accessible for people with dementia? So I thought, while people are you, I already had learned from all the years of work, like don’t necessarily try and design something new if people are using something, well, let’s design around that. So I thought, okay, for example, a zoom interface. Well, do people understand the buttons, maybe those need, you know, different words on that, because they’re not accessible. Maybe people don’t Republic mute, the mute means or it needs to get bigger, though. But rape has helped uncovers like, the process, you know, the use of technology isn’t just about that moment with the interface, which is what user centered design so good at, but it’s it is about this kind of bigger picture. So how can we understand what’s going on there, especially given that these are, you know, almost like intimate experiences in your house that you have, you know, the night before you’re scrolling through your phone in bed, maybe looking at a video conferencing? Right, the next day? So how do you study this? How do you understand this? And then how can we then use that to make it more accessible? Whether technology or technology routines, right, that’s to be determined where exactly the area for intervention is?

Michael Hughes 21:19
Yeah, what’s a highlight? And what’s a low light in that whole experience? And how do you kind of turn those low lights into the highlights? You imagine somebody’s looking at your phone the night before I got this call? And then suddenly, the whole day is kind of designed or that queues are the expectations that you have five prior experiences using the technology to create a mood? I mean, I think that is it, you know, when we sort of study decision making, you know, in our world, we’re doing a really cool project right now around decision making. It’s like any experience that connotes or that creates a negative emotion automatically makes that decision complex. So it’s an interesting kind of intersection between just positive and negative emotion and then the whole kind of like handshake people have with technologies. And if that one technology and if you’re having an important telemedicine tele telehealth, call your provider, you know, and you need to make decisions on that call, if the technology you know, is a disable or to the or achievement of that call, then you get negative emotion, then suddenly those medical decisions are kind of more complex, right? You know, and that message shows up, like extra when we’re talking about people with cognitive challenges.

Amanda Lazar 22:30
Definitely, yeah. And people talked about kind of high stakes situations like, you know, doing kind of financial planning, they had kind of set it up in a way that they’re able to continue engaging in their financial planning. That’s pretty high stakes, right, or, you know, attending funerals attending, kind of continuing their professional lives, in a sense by, you know, kind of going to continuing to, like medical discussions about, you know, how the field of medicine, you know, should respond to crank things, anything like that. And people talked about feeling sometimes, like they were just futzing around, you know, and like the kind of the young generation was able to do everything so fast, so well on these video conferencing platforms. So yeah, the stakes are high. Sometimes suits

Michael Hughes 23:10
are high. But you know what I’m also thinking about Amanda, it’s, I remember, the very first I mean, I’ve always loved design. I’ve been a design geek. You know, for ages. I wanted to be an industrial designer. When I was a kid, I did all of these things. And there’s a great documentary, I think it’s called objectified. And it was one of the first documentaries I really saw that really sort of clued me in that there was something called Human Centered Design out there. And I remember there’s one thing they do a lot, they did a lot of work at IDEO. And for listeners, IDEO, that design lab that craves, like the OXO Good Grips, and cool things like that. And they were designing a pair of garden shears, like, like, like, like hedge clippers, and they were designing it for maintenance look like people who are landscapers like somebody who would be using those garden shares an hour a day versus the city URI, they might be using it for an hour a week or once every couple of weeks. Right. But they were saying that because they are designing for the more extreme user, then the middle kind takes care of itself. You know, and I’m thinking about your work and everything that you’re doing to kind of map out human centered solutions for people with, you know, cognitive concerns. And I’m wondering if you have a feeling that the it’s kind of maybe the same situation here that if you design experiences for people, or I guess the question would might be in what kind of maybe situations or it’s Can you see an example of if we designed this experience for somebody with a cognitive concern, and we optimized to that, is there kind of a follow on or a cascade down to people that may not have cognitive concerns, kind of like how curb cuts are designed for people with wheelchairs, but forever roller bag You know, I can also use that car or a stroller than I can use that curb cut as well. I mean, do you see any inspiration like, or at least a translation of the work that you’re doing for people with cognitive concern? To go to the majority of the population that may not have cognitive concern? Yeah,

Amanda Lazar 25:14
That’s such a good question. I definitely mean, some for a long time, I’ve been saying that people with dementia are kind of the best usability testers. Because sometimes there might be a usability issue, you know, something that is in the wrong place could be in a better place or unclear, and he might pause for a moment, but figure it out. So I think that things that sometimes people can overcome, even if it is taking cognitive load, could stop someone with dementia kind of in their tracks, and they will be you know, in bars, their use of stops or use so that these are things that could be better designed. So I definitely think in a lot of cases, that’s true. And then the other thing that’s relevant here is dementia, we so often they come as a cognitive condition, that, you know, it actually often involves a lot of different components. So it could involve, you know, sensory, there’s a lot of sensory changes that people can experience. And there’s also a lot of sensory experiences that people in general experience as they age. And there’s a lot of, you know, sensory disabilities that people have all across age ranges in the population. So in some of our work that I’m in Dixon has led now professor at Clemson, she’s talked about how different accessibility features for example, for, you know, blind or low vision users can be might be really useful as well for people with dementia, so we can learn or benefit from things that different communities with disabilities, you know, have found, in addition to also I think, what we fix to make things more usable for people with dementia could make them much better forever. And here, I’m talking more about, you know, mild dementia, moderate dementia. I think when we talk about technologies for advancement, yeah, I think there’s absolutely technologies people can use often at that point restart designed for the caregiver or passive use, I think, any kind of human need that we have, you know, that we satisfy with technology. For people with dementia, we could think about that in advance. It’ll just look really different.

Michael Hughes 27:08
Yeah, yeah. And it’s almost like how people touch you. I do get your point about sensory, I know that there’s, you know, there’s, I’ve read that, you know, in advanced dementia, you know, there may be more sensitivity to touch, or they may be more sensitive to, you know, auditory stimulation and things like that. So that opens up a sort of a whole new world. I mean, there’s so many different factors that you sort of think about you think about, I mean, in general, I mean, I think one of my, you know, Qlik, my buddy Victor Wang, again, who was talking about AI, and use h tech and talking about, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna put the AI question to you as well, Amanda, because, you know, we did, we did meet at the ATI Conference, which is all about AI and its promise for, you know, you know, Aging and Longevity. But, you know, you think about all the different factors that influence somebody’s wellness, and, you know, if you’re, let’s say, if you’re a cardiologist, you’re the expert on the heart. You know, you’re, you know, everything about the heart. And if you’re in geriatrics, quite frankly, you know, everything about complexity, because the factors that lead to wellness, you know, they could be financial, they could be functional, that could be cognitive, they could be emotional, they could be clinical, all of these different things. And then when we think about AI, we think about AI as maybe something that could naturally make sense of these things. And I think they said you even off the top of the call, I’m kind of getting sick, a little bit of the AI conversation, because, you know, we may have just hit a ceiling in terms of what it can do. And maybe the wow factor is kind of, I don’t know, just sort of settled a little bit. But I All that being said, Where do you think is the best application for AI technology as it exists today, within designing support for people with cognitive challenges? What sort of curiosities do you have about AI just in any aspect of aging or longevity? That you would want to unpack a little bit more? Yeah,

Amanda Lazar 29:06
I think some of the questions I’m the most interested in now are the ones where, if I can fix this part of things, let’s say, right, well, where does a human still have to interact with the thing? Does the thing have to be plugged in? Does the thing have to be, you know, speak to someone or does the person speak to it? And how do they log in, get into that application? And right, so it’s like, we have all these edges around things. And again, I don’t think we have current, elegant ways of designing for or talking about or thinking about as technology but now when technology is so woven into our world, well, the things it’s woven into matter quite a bit too. And now we have to include those into so in other words, right, so we often are looking for technology for so long. Technology has been framed as this thing that’s going to ameliorate If that agent crisis, the lack of caregivers, right, the growing population bad. That idea means that sometimes we’re forgetting the work it takes to make technology work, or we’re saying we’re downplaying it. And then you see things like, you know, people are studying the work that caregivers have to do in getting the technology to work. You know, I keep talking about plugging in. But that’s a pretty big one. If I just listened to an amazing medical device that will know, you know, you just have to wear it. And then it’s going to let us know if you fall in if you’ve wondered if you’re having an incident, you know, that? Are you going to marry her?

Michael Hughes 30:38
Are you going to charge it? Right,

Amanda Lazar 30:40
you’re going to charge? And if you have, or is someone going to find it stigmatizing. So they will kind of put it off to the side of their dresser and you’ll say, Hey, are you wearing that thing? They’ll say, Yeah, you know, or they’ll just wear it, you know, when they go out or something, but at home is the time they need to be, you know, so. Right. So I guess I’m interested in our exciting visions of technology. We are. I’m interested in things in the shadows. Yeah, that’s exciting visions. And I think people setting bold, right, I don’t think that means Yeah, this isn’t to say people should be studying those exciting applications for technology. But I like to come along, and, you know, kick around in the shadows and say, Well, what does it mean that this is happening? And, you know, can we really leave that out? Or do we need to start thinking about that, too?

Michael Hughes 31:27
Alright, thought you would tell me that AI is a magical silver bullet, that’s gonna just solve everything. But you know, you’re right. I mean, I think that and I think we see that in a lot, a lot in our work, you know, especially in, you know, in community housing, what have you, when people have no time now you have this new thing that comes around now there’s this now there’s that and everyone’s still getting over? COVID? And yeah, the idea that you can just plug and play something is just a real huge misnomer. You know, especially in our industry, where people are just every consumable minute of their time is spent doing stuff, and how do you and how do you break that down? It’s almost like, you know, I always say, I kind of have like three measures of ROI, you know, one is kind of the traditional one of like, time saved, or extra revenue. And then the second one is kind of more the sizing up of our problems or opportunities to begin with, we don’t have enough of that. So if somebody tells me I can solve my problem, well, this is problem number 123 years of problem number 36. Right. But then I always like to say that the third ROI is if you take us away for being I’ll kill you. What that means, is that trusting our, you know, our team that does from lightened work, if I give them something, and they say, No, if you take this away from me, I’ll kill you, then we know that it’s easy, and it works. I’m already in dementia, you know, I think the most successful element of that is intuition, robotics, and, or is it No, is ageless innovation and their pets, the robotic pets? And I don’t know how much those allow people to get better sleep. I don’t know how much they reduce agitation, I just know that my staff for 150 bucks a throw is like no, don’t take these away from us. Right? Because things are just obvious. They obviously were. The frustrating thing is that, you know, when I do kind of unbox and try new technologies, though, frequently, it just doesn’t work right out of the box. And they need that user interaction. And I can’t be somebody’s pilot site at that point for it, you know, so I guess, if you had to give an aspiring technology developer a piece of advice about designing for the senior world, and at least if you take a look at sort of what’s what’s what you see working, or what you see, don’t working? Are there any? Is there anything big? Absolutely do this? Or is there any big like, absolutely don’t do that. When we talk about actually bringing a solution out into the world where real human beings are going to use it.

Amanda Lazar 34:03
I think the way I think about technology is like it’s gonna cut, the thing that’s going to come is going to come and then we’ll have to adjust to it because we’re gonna have to use it right, or people will start using it. And then you know, so for example, there’s digitization initiatives, you know, around the world, you can see where people aren’t using cash. Now they’re using, you know, their phones to pay for things. And I mean, we do that here, but as the only option. So if I was advising, like policy people, should we be doing that? Well, then I’d say, hey, what about the you know, we need to think about all these groups who this might become inaccessible to, but if someone’s coming in saying, Hey, I would design a new app for I guess, I would say, I mean, for me, I have almost like a list of real needs. I see. They don’t all require a new technology being designed. Sometimes it might be an add on to an existing system that I have, like my uses, and I think our use cases that I think are really under explored

Michael Hughes 35:01
Tell us about what use cases do you think are under explored? Yeah,

Amanda Lazar 35:05
I think so one, this is what I tell a lot of AI people when they come saying, hey, you know, what can we do with AI in the context of dementia? I think that not only detecting that negative stuff, everyone wants to detect agitation. BPSD is right, the kind of these negative symptoms, but there’s another one that I think is really interesting, right? Like, I want to know if this technology, for example, in my PhD work, I went into a memory care unit, and I bought this device from a company and we evaluated it, we saw where people liked it. So you know, we would play with a puzzle thing. And I sat there and took notes. I brought in these validated measures, which were for observing people with dementia to understand, right? Because they’re your verbals affected, right? You’re not going to say, I’m having a great time. I mean, you could, but it’s not the same. You know, in the moment, it might be harder to do that while doing something else. And then if I asked you two hours later, you might not remember the exact specifics of two hours ago. So observation is really good there. And so you have this checkbox of like, is the person leaning forward? Are they smiling? Are they doing right? So you sit there and observe, but as one recent, you know, that’s a lot of resources to be able to do that. But imagine if I could know, you know, how much tailoring we could do, for example, on things if we knew if someone was enjoying themselves and engaging. And you know, since we know that communication, that verbal communication is more challenging. So I think there again, just like the I mean, that’s the same trend as the stuff I was talking about before, right, instead of just seeing it as such a negative condition that we need to fix or remedy, there’s real losses, there’s real you know, hardships, of course, with dementia, but there’s also a lot of stuff that, you know, people can do, people are excited about, and so designing there, and then in terms of EEG, also, I think thinking about what we are losing when we’re not valuing older people in our society, and how we might roll that back a little bit and be able to, you know, capture some of that. So for a long time, I had this dream project kind of figuring out how to capture people’s, you know, embodied interactions, and then show younger people that so for example, you know, there are, I was in Chicago at the time doing a postdoc, and there was my cousin brought me my older cousin brought me to this skilled like, leather, fixer kind of person, right, she would get her bag repair her leather bag repaired. And these are very, you know, these skills are not ones you can verbally describe, necessarily, but you can imagine, you know, worn or sensor technology, things that could capture this and then help transmitted to others, whether with that person there to teach them or not. So the closest we got is my PhD student teacher Medallia did a project in the context of gardening so they have what context to capture where we have older gardeners, for example, mentoring younger gardeners that aren’t necessarily co located. Right? Because gardening is, again, sorry, this wasn’t a people dimension, but still these I guess, across these, I’m interested in more, you know, these embodied and sensory and things that you can’t just get to with our words.

Michael Hughes 38:10
I get it, I get it, I get it again. And what I really love is that you really are turning a very hopeful picture on this, you know, it’s glass half full, not a glass half empty, but I just think that, oh, this is research that we need in the world. I’m so happy that you’ve taken a few moments to share that with us. But you’re not off the hook yet. Amanda, we do always ask our guests three questions about their own personal experience with aging. And you feel comfortable enough for me to try these questions with you? Yeah. Okay. But first, tell us where people can find you. How can they find out more about your research and your work?

Amanda Lazar 38:47
Yeah. Yeah. So you could read about my Labs Research Or you could find my website on a mental czar. dotnet.

Michael Hughes 39:00
Amanda, are those dotnet? Yes. Okay. So Amanda, question number one for you. When you think about how you’ve aged you personally, what do you think has changed about you? Or grown with you that you really like about yourself?

Amanda Lazar 39:13
When you don’t know. So, it’s a work in progress, but definitely softening. So, you know, I, it’s easy for me to go into these kinds of, rigid, you know, ways of thinking about, you know, this is how you should act this way you should do this out, you know. So, I, I guess just like how I opened up talking about, you know, outfitting older people sensors and getting them from one point to another, sometimes I’ll think about my day and, you know, even on vacation days, like okay, I’m gonna exercise and I’m gonna cook and then I’m going to, you know, clean every room of the house. So trying to move away from that to a more, you know, open softer place.

No, I feel you

Amanda Lazar 39:59
I got that for us all to laugh. I like this resonance?

Michael Hughes 40:03
Yeah, everything every moment of time must be filled with a project. And I’m trying to get to that place as well. Yeah, but I’ve definitely

Amanda Lazar 40:11
I’ve been making some progress as I age for sure. That’s versus when I was younger and made a summer camp schedule for my little brother. I guess my mom asked me to, like pay me to babysit him or something. I looked back at his schedule, and like, you know, eight to 802 Break and it was like 802 to 815. Like spelling practice, it was really frightening. Going

Michael Hughes 40:31
like the robots or the rowing sculling practice. Oh, no spelling practice. Well, spelling practice. Okay, I misheard you. Okay. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense. Yeah. But here’s question number two for you. All right. What has surprised you the most about you, as you’ve aged? That’s a hard

Amanda Lazar 40:50
One surprised me. Because it’s like, you have to remember what you thought before. I’ll do one where I’ve developed a very intense hobby around gardening, like very intense, like, I know, the names of, you know, native plants in my area. And I like, think about them a lot. So yeah, I guess I didn’t realize that I could develop an entire new, very deep hobby, out

Michael Hughes 41:11
of Scratch. Yeah, but that’s also really inspiring, because I think a lot of people don’t think that way. I mean, I know in my mind, I want to learn how to cook, I want to learn how to do a different language, I want to do all of these different things. And where do you start? So hearing stories about us sort of picking this up and really finding that passion? That’s very inspiring. Yeah. But speaking about inspiring. I also want to say, you know, the third question, is there someone that you’ve met, or been in your life that you think has set a good example for you in aging, like someone that has inspired you to age with abundance? Or looking at someone that might be older than you? Or oh, I want to be that person when I grow up? So anything?

Amanda Lazar 41:52
Oh, yes. So many people. It’s, it’s hard to, I mean, so many people, I think, for me, most people, if you pause, you know, and give a little space, you could there’s, you can kind of take in what’s the word? It’s like the, I guess, the magnificence of, you know, human times not to get sappy. But it’s true, right? When you’re talking to anyone, but in this context, like older people, right, just the way that people have, you know, develop their personalities and their perspectives and their unique interest in their ways of thinking about things. If I can slow down a little I can take it in. And of course, I have, you know, my favorites, that. And William, you read them? Yeah, yeah. Yeah, she taught me to sell more. But I don’t want to, you know, I mean, like, she was so fun, and so stylish and so cool, but it’s like, but even the people who, you know, are not so stylish, I think there’s that that’s cool, too. i It’s hard to explain the perspective that

Michael Hughes 42:55
there’s things that people carry with them and choose to carry with them, you know, you sort of recognize those things, because, you know, you work with so many people that may be older than yourself. And it’s interesting to kind of notice, you know, people whose careers maybe they may still identify as that person. Like, we have a wonderful lady at one of our locations that leads exercise classes. And she’s 102. She, what she was, it wasn’t that she was a gym teacher, when she was in her career, but she is a gym teacher. So just see what people carry with them. And it’s a great gift. And yeah, that you notice that with so many. Yeah. I

Amanda Lazar 43:40
I mean, we people are researching to like, you know, a retired professor, but she’s still. Yeah, she was diagnosed with like a rare slow moving forward dementia, you know, more than a decade ago, and she’s, but she’s working on our team, she mentor students, she helps us with analysis, you know, we have another she’s an advanced grad student on our team, she takes, you know, classes at UMD. And we’re doing a project where she’s reflecting on her own experience as an older woman, you know, giving tech support to her peers, and we’re reflecting on our experience together. So, yeah, there’s a lot, a lot of value there.

Michael Hughes 44:11
You get to notice those things. So great. Well, Amanda, I really just appreciate you giving us the time and being such a terrific guest on the show. I mean, I think you’ve opened her eyes up to a lot of new ways of thinking and possibilities that we may not, I mean, I know what it has been for me. So I’ve very much enjoyed it. So thank you for that. And most of all, thank you to our listeners. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of The Art of aging, which is part of the abundant aging podcast series from United Church Homes. And we want to hear from you. I mean, are you a dementia caregiver? Are you someone that is supportive? Do you have somebody that has a cognitive challenge that may have an opinion on the types of solutions that are designed for you? Where do you find your voice? How would you like to contribute? Please tell us about this at abundant aging And then you can also give us a free Get back when you visit the Ruth Frost Parker website at And once more Amanda, where can people find you and learn more about your work?

Amanda Lazar 45:10
Yes, it’s at And you can read about my work with my lab and

Michael Hughes 45:18
Terrific. Thank you all for listening and we’ll see you next time.