Ageing and Avatars

Virtual Reality, Older Adults and Social Participation

Promoting healthy ageing through the use of cutting edge technology.

Project overview

In today’s ageing society, innovation that promotes the social participation of older adults is vitally important. It is well known that older people who have access to meaningful social networks and who actively participate in community or group activities benefit from enhanced wellbeing that enables them to live a full and active life for longer. However, as people approach advanced old age their opportunities to engage in these activities often diminish. Increasing frailty and deteriorating health can impair mobility, keeping people confined to their homes.

This project will investigate how full-bodied gesture-based interactions and avatars can be used to create a sense of virtual presence between older people who are unable to meet together face-to-face.

Using cutting edge virtual and augmented reality technologies (VR/AR), the research team will analyse how older people represent themselves using virtual avatars in social virtual environments.

The project builds on previous research including the Growing Old and Staying Connected project that examined the role of technology in improving older people’s experience of social isolation.

This project aims to identify how natural user interface (NUI) technologies can be designed and used to facilitate active social participation for older people constrained by limited mobility.

This project is supported by an ARC Discovery grant (Project ID DP160101368).

Project team

This is a multidisciplinary project involving researchers working in the fields of human-computer interaction, computer science, social work, gerontology, and aged care policies and practice. The project team comprises:

  • Frank Vetere
    Frank Vetere, Professor & Director, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Jenny Waycott
    Jenny Waycott, Lecturer, School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne
  • Steven Baker
    Steven Baker, Research Fellow, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Zaher Joukhadar
    Zaher Joukhadar, Lead Software Engineer, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Thuong Hoang
    Thuong Hoang, Lecturer, School of Information Technology, Deakin University
  • Romina Carrasco
    Romina Carrasco, PhD Candidate, Microsoft Research Centre for SocialNUI, University of Melbourne
  • Elizabeth Ozanne, Department of Social Work, University of Melbourne
  • Briony Dow, National Ageing Research Institute (NARI)
  • Frances Batchelor
    Frances Batchelor, National Ageing Research Institute (NARI)
  • Jeni Warburton, John Richards Initiative, La Trobe University

Contact details


Baker, S., Waycott, J., Robertson, E., Carrasco, R., Neves, B. B., Hampson, R., & Vetere, F. (2019). Evaluating the use of interactive virtual reality technology with older adults living in residential aged care. Information Processing & Management, 102105.

Baker, S., Waycott, J., Carrasco, R., Hoang, T., & Vetere, F. (2019). Exploring the Design of Social VR Experiences with Older Adults. Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference, 303–315. New York, New York, USA: ACM.

Baker, S., Waycott, J., Vetere, F., & Hoang, T. (2019). The Technology Explorers: Partnering with Older Adults to Engage with Virtual Reality and Virtual Avatars. In B. B. Neves & F. Vetere (Eds.), Ageing and Digital Technology: Designing and Evaluating Emerging Technologies for Older Adults (pp. 231–246). Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Baker, S., Warburton, J., Waycott, J., Batchelor, F., Hoang, T., Dow, B., Ozanne, E., Vetere, F. (2018). Combatting social isolation and increasing social participation of older adults through the use of technology: A systematic review of existing evidence. Australasian Journal on Ageing. DOI: 10.1111/ajag.12572

Waycott, J., Wadley, G., Baker, S., Ferdous, H., Hoang, T., Gerling, K., Headleand, C, & Simeone, A. (2018). Manipulating Reality? Designing and Deploying Virtual Reality in Sensitive Settings. Workshop, Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference 2018. [PDF]

Carrasco, R., Waycott, J., Baker, S., & Vetere, F. (2018) Designing the Lost Self: Older Adults’ Self-representations in Online Games. In Proceedings of the 2018 Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference 2018, pp. 441–452). DOI: 10.1145/3196709.3196773

Carrasco Zuffi, R. (2018) Older Adults Designing Avatars for Socializing. In Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference Companion Publication on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS), pp. 379–382. DOI: 10.1145/3197391.3205387

Carrasco, R., Baker, S., Waycott, J. & Vetere, F. (2017) Negotiating Stereotypes of Older Adults through Avatars. In Proceedings of the 29th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (OzCHI 2017), 28 Nov – 1 Dec, Brisbane, Australia. [DOI: 10.1145/3152771.3152795]

Puri, A., Baker, S., Hoang, T. & Carrasco, R. (2017) To be (ME) or Not To Be?: Photorealistic Avatars and Older Adults. In Proceedings of the 29th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (OzCHI 2017), 28 Nov – 1 Dec, Brisbane, Australia. [DOI: 10.1145/3152771.3156166]

Baker, S.; Warburton, J.; Hodgkin, S.; Pascal, J. (2017) The supportive network: rural disadvantaged older people and ICT Ageing and Society CAMBRIDGE UNIV PRESS. Pg: 1291–1309. [DOI:10.1017/S0144686X16000350]

Cyarto, E., Batchelor, F., Baker, S. & Dow, B. (2016) Active Ageing with Avatars. In Proceedings of the 28th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (OzCHI 2016), Launceston, Tasmania. [DOI:10.1145/3010915.3010944]

Carrasco, R. (2017) Designing Virtual Avatars to Empower Social Participation among Older Adults. In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Denver, USA. [DOI: 10.1145/3027063.3027133]

Baker, S., Waycott, J., Pedell, S., Hoang, T., & Ozanne, E. (2016). Older People and Social Participation: From Touch-Screens to Virtual Realities. In Proceedings of the 2016 ITAP Conference, Kochi, Japan [PDF]

Waycott, J, & Baker, S. (2016). Older Adults and Digital Participation: Challenges, Opportunities and Future Directions. Digital Participation: Engaging Diverse and Marginalised Communities workshop, OzCHI 2016.

Baker, S., & Warburton, J. (2015). ICT and Vulnerable People: Incorporating an Ethical Decision Making Model. Ethical Encounters in HCI workshop, OzCHI 2015.