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Papers We Love: Exploring Gamification Among Elderly Persons

thejessleigh profile image jess unrein ・2 min read

Welcome back to Papers We Love! Sorry for the absence last week - the holidays kind of took the pepper out of me and I fell behind. BUT I picked out a paper on gamification among frail elderly patients that I think will lead to a really good discussion (and isn't too long of a read :) ).

I picked this paper somewhat selfishly. My dad worked in geriatric practice when I was growing up. As a result, I spent a lot of time tagging around with him to nursing homes and interacting with patients. I'm very interested in the intersection of elder care, healthcare, and technology. It's almost like this paper was tailor made for me.

I think the paper did a great job of outlining possible gains as well as technical, cultural, and accessibility challenges. However, I was a bit surprised and dismayed that the paper didn't touch on possible ethical and privacy ramifications of this kind of data gathering. Sure, you might be able to observe a decline and medically intervene earlier. But how is this information being collected and stored? Who has access, and is participation voluntary for the patient? Will this integrate with an Electronic Medical Record, and will performance in gamified activities impact insurance rates or treatment options?

I am incredibly wary of policies and technologies that treat elderly patients as having fewer rights than other people. It's a trap that can rob patients of their dignity at the same time they're being robbed of their mobility, senses, and ability to live autonomously, and I think it's imperative to keep these questions in mind when integrating technology with elder care.

Discussion

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

I feel like the ethics of privacy may fall out of the scope of the paper specifically around gamification. Only because this is an issue that is much broader than gamification and the paper was pretty short. It wouldn't have hurt to address it, but I feel like the ethical questions most relevant here may surround gamification itself.

Gamification is a form of manipulation and should always be examined pretty closely from an ethical perspective. I actually feel like if done the right way this is a very ethical use of gamification because it's being used as a medical treatment where the benefits will likely be tangible and positive. As opposed to, say, using gamification to create digital addiction for a product, likely impacting the mental and physical health of the use in a negative way.

It seems like older would fall into a class of people who could be highly vulnerable to gamification for the wrong purposes. Along with minors, this is certainly a class that deserves more scrutinized regulation.

Gamification and medicine seems like a pretty interesting topic in general. Like other medicines, the side effects of gamification seem like they might be more worthwhile from an ethical perspective.

I'm with you on the lack of ethical attention in a paper like this being a sore spot. I feel like the ethics of specifically privacy seem more inherent here.

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jess unrein Author

Totally take your point that privacy is out of scope. I'm just very skeptical when people bring up anything having to do with data gathering and medical treatment that doesn't at least nod to further thought needed in this area. I think tech has proven that we often don't think about it at all, so I appreciate acknowledgement that it's a concern.

Definitely makes me want to look into what sorts of gamification products are already available in the medical field.

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Ben Halpern

Yeah I agree. Privacy in medicine and vulnerable groups is hugely important and evergreen an evergreen topic.

Yes, the general lack of consideration for matters of privacy is abhorrent in our industry.

Those software-enabled spin-class-at-home bikes like Peloton come to mind in the health and wellness space, but there is definitely a distinction between fitness and medicine relevant to gamification.

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Rob Hoelz

Thanks for posting this, Jess! You make a great point about the ethics around the privacy aspect of this, not to mention how the data could be used.