Software improves understanding of mobility problems

December 15, 2010

The software tool presents data visually and this allows those without specialist training - both professionals and older people - to better understand and contribute to discussions about the mechanics of movement, known as biomechanics, when carrying out everyday activities.

The software takes motion capture data and muscle strength measurements from older people undertaking everyday activities. The software then generates a 3D animated human stick figure on which the biomechanical demands of the activities are represented visually at the joints. These demands, or stresses, are shown as a percentage of maximum capability through a colour gradient: green is 0 per cent, amber is 50 per cent and red is 100 per cent or maximum stress.

The research shows the new software tool has the potential to improve diagnostic, therapeutic, communication and education procedures by increasing the use and integration of biomechanical expertise in both design and healthcare practices.

The visualisation software could be used to improve the designer's understanding of the different needs when developing products for older people, including enhancing the ergonomic and as well as the functional attributes of products, and improving the design of landscapes and buildings.

In a healthcare setting the tool could be used as part of a range of assessment techniques. It could improve the understanding by different healthcare profession of older people's mobility challenges and improve communication across these professions to provide a more joined-up approach to clinical assessment, diagnosis and rehabilitation.

Commenting on the research, Professor Alastair Macdonald of the Glasgow School of Art, said: "The visualisation software is a simple yet highly effective tool to help older people and professionals explain, discuss and address mobility problems. Better understanding of older people's mobility can help healthcare professionals improve diagnosis or treatment of problems, and design professionals to adapt the way they design for older people."
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT Professor Alastair Macdonald, (Tel: 0141 353 4715, email:

ESRC Press Office:
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email:
Jeanine Woolley (Tel: 01793 413119, email:


1. The project, Innovation in envisioning dynamic biomechanical data to inform healthcare and design guidelines and strategy was led by Professor Alastair Macdonald, School of Design, The Glasgow School of Art. This work was carried out in conjunction with the Bioengineering Unit at the University of Strathclyde, with Journey Associates providing substantial research support.

2. Due to the positive findings from the New Dynamics of Ageing research, The Glasgow School of Art is continuing its collaboration with the University of Strathclyde's Bioengineering Unit through the evaluation of the use of the visualisation method as interventions in a series of Phase II Random Controlled Trials. This new project is funded by the Medical Research Council's Lifelong Health and Wellbeing programme and is being led by Professor Phil Rowe at the University of Strathclyde with Professor Macdonald as a co-investigator.

3. This project is part of the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme which is a seven year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme is a collaboration between five UK Research Councils, led by the ESRC, and includes EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC, ESRC and AHRC.

4. The visualisation tool was evaluated through a qualitative methodology. For the purposes of evaluating the prototype, two main groups were recruited: 1) older people (N=18); and 2) healthcare and design professionals (N=15). Older participants in the 60+, 70+ and 80+ year old age groups were recruited through the University of Strathclyde's Centre for Lifelong Learning and Age Concern Scotland. The older people were selected to match as closely as possible the cohort of individuals (and their associated age- and health-related conditions) from whom the original biomechanical data for the visualisations were obtained. The range of professions selected comprised clinical medicine, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, bioengineering, disability consultancy, engineering design, and interior design.

5. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils. We invest annually around £3 billion in research. Our focus is on excellence with impact. We nurture the highest quality research, as judged by international peer review, providing the UK with a competitive advantage. Global research requires we sustain a diversity of funding approaches, fostering international collaborations, and providing access to the best facilities and infrastructure, and locating skilled researchers in stimulating environments. Our research achieves impact - the demonstrable contribution to society and the economy made by knowledge and skilled people. To deliver impact, researchers and businesses need to engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable organisations.

Economic & Social Research Council

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