Leveraging Virtual Reality to Improve Navigation Abilities in Seniors with Mild Cognitive Impairment

Navigation and wayfinding can be difficult for the older adults, especially those with cognitive decline, while digital environments such as digital games were suggested to improve cognitive functions and wayfinding performance. In this application, we propose a randomized controlled trial with 120 older adults with mild-cognitive impairment, 5 trials per participant, to test the effects of virtual reality wayfinding training on wayfinding performance, workload, uncertainty, and other outcome measures compared to two control conditions: conventional intervention (video guided tour) and “negative”/placebo intervention (irrelevant video). Data collection for this trial will be split evenly, with half of the participants recruited and assessed at the Cornell site and the remaining half at the HKUST site. This bifurcated approach ensures a broader spectrum of participant backgrounds, thereby facilitating the design of the application for a more diverse group of older adults. Our anticipated findings aim to shed light on the potential advantages of the VR intervention, offering valuable insights for the development of future technological applications designed to enhance wayfinding and navigational skills in the older adults.

Roles and responsibilities 

The student intern on this project will primarily assist in the collection and analysis of data from a randomized controlled trial investigating the efficacy of virtual reality (VR) training on wayfinding abilities in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. They will be tasked with administering VR wayfinding sessions, as well as conventional and placebo interventions as outlined in the trial protocol. The intern is responsible for ensuring accurate and consistent data collection across participants, monitoring trial progress, and maintaining ethical standards in treatment and data privacy. They will also conduct preliminary data analysis and contribute to the interpretation of results, comparing the impact of VR training against other interventions. The intern is expected to collaborate effectively with team members at both the Cornell and WCM sites, facilitating a cohesive and comprehensive study approach.

Qualifications and previous coursework

This opportunity is available to students in Cornell University's College of Human Ecology.

The ideal candidate for this internship should be engaged in or have completed studies in psychology, neuroscience, gerontology, computer science with a focus on human-computer interaction, or related fields, underpinned by coursework in statistics, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, gerontology, and neuroscience. Practical experience with data analysis tools (SPSS, R, Python), VR technology, and prior research experience, particularly involving human subjects, is highly desirable. Additionally, the student should possess soft skills such as effective communication and teamwork, along with certified ethical training for conducting research with human participants. This combination of theoretical knowledge, technical skills, and ethical research practice will equip the intern to contribute meaningfully to the project's goal of enhancing navigational skills in older adults through VR interventions.

Learning outcomes 

During the internship at the Design and Augmented Intelligence Lab, the student will gain practical skills in conducting and analyzing research, particularly focused on how virtual reality can help older adults with memory difficulties. They will learn to work with different types of data, understand how to set up a study involving human participants, and use technology for cognitive training. The intern will also improve their ability to work in a team and communicate their findings clearly. Professional growth is a key outcome, as the student will network with professionals and navigate the challenges of real-world research. Furthermore, exposure to diverse groups of people will teach them the importance of considering various cultural perspectives in designing technology for health and well-being.