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Ann Fam Med. 2011 Jul-Aug;9(4):344-50. doi: 10.1370/afm.1266.

Objective measurement of sociability and activity: mobile sensing in the community.

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Center for Population Health, The Dart-mouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA.



Automated systems able to infer detailed measures of a person's social interactions and physical activities in their natural environments could lead to better understanding of factors influencing well-being. We assessed the feasibility of a wireless mobile device in measuring sociability and physical activity in older adults, and compared results with those of traditional questionnaires.


This pilot observational study was conducted among a convenience sample of 8 men and women aged 65 years or older in a continuing care retirement community. Participants wore a waist-mounted device containing sensors that continuously capture data pertaining to behavior and environment (accelerometer, microphone, barometer, and sensors for temperature, humidity, and light). The sensors measured time spent walking level, up or down an elevation, and stationary (sitting or standing), and time spent speaking with 1 or more other people. The participants also completed 4 questionnaires: the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36), the Yale Physical Activity Survey (YPAS), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale, and the Friendship Scale.


Men spent 21.3% of their time walking and 64.4% stationary. Women spent 20.7% of their time walking and 62.0% stationary. Sensed physical activity was correlated with aggregate YPAS scores (r(2)=0.79, P=.02). Sensed time speaking was positively correlated with the mental component score of the SF-36 (r(2)=0.86, P = .03), and social interaction as assessed with the Friendship Scale (r(2)=0.97, P = .002), and showed a trend toward association with CES-D score (r(2)=-0.75, P = .08). In adjusted models, sensed time speaking was associated with SF-36 mental component score (P = .08), social interaction measured with the Friendship Scale (P = .045), and CES-D score (P=.04).


Mobile sensing of sociability and activity is well correlated with traditional measures and less prone to biases associated with questionnaires that rely on recall. Using mobile devices to collect data from and monitor older adult patients has the potential to improve detection of changes in their health.

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