New Research: ABLE Music Interactive Platform

A demonstration of the MetaMotion R+ Bluetooth wearable sensor by MbientLab controlling an audio visual interactive application created by Pulse Lab.

The ABLE Music platform is a co-creation project in collaboration with older adults with dementia and their caregivers, to provide unique pair or group interactions and intergenerational play by transforming movement into art experiences (digital painting and musical creation) in order to enhance well-ness (physical, mood, cognitive).

The ABLE Music platform advances current research on dementia that tends to, a) not be interactive, b) not exploit digital tools, and c) doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to engage families and caregivers, reduce their stress, and restore identity, dignity and relationships. These advancements are built on research that demonstrates the benefits of: bright colour palettes’ ability to stimulate older adults with dementia, music and painting experiences that reflect the memories and preferences of older adults, and intergenerational gaming that will allow younger children and adults to teach older adults digital gaming skills.

Art combined with movement has a synergistic effect – it has the power to enhance mood, physical health and cognition. Reducing depression makes us less susceptible to cognitive & memory impairment, due to depression ageing the brain. Arts-based and Montessori- based approaches increase communication, episodic memory, and relationships between People with Dementia (PwD) and their family members and caregivers. Crip approaches to design can help researchers center PwD and caregiver perspectives in treatment plans, in addition to rethinking how power can influence the research process.

The ABLE Music platform will connect to a computer using an MbientLab MetaMotion R+ wearable sensor. The sensor will connect via Bluetooth (BLE) to the host computer to translate the user’s gestures into motion-based sound and art on the screen. The user can clip on the sensor, housed in a silicone case, to their sleeve, a glove or wear it like a watch. The user can then move their hand or extremity that the sensor is attached to in 3D space to create art and music in an application on the host computer.

Machine learning algorithms will aid in the recognition of gestures made by the user. This can aid in recognizing patterns that can help improve the enjoyability of the interaction and aid in the recalling of memories for the user and their caregivers.

MbientLab MetaMotion R+ wearable sensor
MbientLab MetaMotion R+ wearable sensor wristband

Future research to be conducted between Pulse Lab and older adults is the application of wireless gesture based control to art, gaming and music based applications. Our initial research is designing a paint by numbers style art experience that can be based on photographs from the users’ own collection and music that is augmented by the users’ progress in completing the art work.

The paint-by-numbers experience is fully digital. The users input with a wearable sensor controls the paint brush in order to complete the composition, filling in each cell of colour as they move the sensor around.

The beginning of a paint-by-numbers experience.
The finished fully painted art work.

The ABLE Project Featured on McMaster University’s Brighter World Blog

At McMaster, we are devoted to the cultivation of human potential. We are committed to taking a collaborative approach to improving people’s lives, contributing to global knowledge and advancing the health and well-being of the world around us.

One of the ways we fulfil this commitment is by pioneering groundbreaking research in fields ranging from health care to business, arts and culture to advanced manufacturing.

Brighter World Blog

The ABLE (Arts Based Therapies Enabling Longevity for Geriatric Outpatients) project led by Paula Gardner, Asper Chair in Communications and Associate Professor in the CMST department has been featured on McMaster University’s Brighter World Blog.

The ABLE project includes researchers from health care, computer science, engineering, and communication and multimedia, ranging from undergrads and graduates, up to full professors.

Stephen Surlin (left), Adekunle Akinyemi (centre) and Caitlin McArthur test out the ABLE device. Photo by JD Howell.

ABLE is a digital platform that older adults or their caregivers can use for either rehabilitation exercises or free-flowing dance movement. People who use ABLE can create a piece of music, paint a digital picture or play a game by waving their hands, dancing or making similar movements. It’s similar to Xbox Kinect or Nintendo Wii games, except that the result is arts-based, rather than a hole-in-one or knocking all the bowling pins down.

ABLE is also a lot more than just technology, explains the project’s lead investigator and Asper Chair in Communications, Paula Gardner.

“We’re also trying to understand the relationship between aesthetic or art practice and movement, and what types of art engagements might incentivize older adults to engage in movement or mobility,” she explains.

“Some research suggests that, neurologically or affectively, something happens when you engage in visual or multi-sensorial experiences – that it triggers desire and interest and allows you to engage more freely and intuitively.”

Brighter World, McMaster University, 2019

Dr. Paula Gardner Co-Author and Co-Editor of Ada Special Issue (No. 16): Emerging Gender, Media and Technology Scholarship in Africa

Internet café in Accra, Ghana. Cafés are populated almost entirely by men and boys, and some do not allow females to enter. For context, see ‘Give a Laptop, Change the World: The Story of the OLPC in Ghana’: Photo by H. Leslie Steeves.

The Ada: Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology has released its publication of Ada Special Issue (No. 16): Emerging Gender, Media and Technology Scholarship in Africa, co-edited by Paula Gardner, Audrey Gadzekpo and Leslie Steeves. Ada is an open access journal.

Dr. Paula Gardner has a co-authored article in this special issue titled, Emerging Gender, Media and Technology Scholarship in Africa: Opportunities and Conundrums in African Women’s Navigating Digital Media. The article is co-authored with Audrey Gadzekpo and H. Leslie Steeves.

Over the past decade and earlier, much of the academic and grey literature has painted an optimistic picture of rapidly increasing access and growth of digital technologies in Africa. Industry statistics put internet penetration in Africa close to 40 percent and growing, even though the continent still lags behind the world average of Internet users (Internet World Statistics, June 2019). Some estimates predict that by 2025 the sub-continent will add 167 million mobile subscribers to its existing 456 million (GSMA Report, 2019). Mobile devices, especially, have assumed centrality in the lives of ordinary people and provide prospects for Africa to leapfrog into the modern digital world. Smart phones are enabling millions of Africans to share news and information more easily and to tap into all kinds of essential services, much like elsewhere in the world.

Emerging Gender, Media and Technology Scholarship in Africa: Opportunities and Conundrums in African Women’s Navigating Digital Media by Audrey Gadzekpo, Paula Gardner, H. Leslie Steeves, 2020.

This article is written in association with the Fembot Collective.

The Collective that brings you the Ada journal and the Fembot Collective podcasts. The Fembot Collective was founded in 2009 at the University of Oregon. The Collective’s intent was to create an open access, open source publishing platform for feminist research on gender, new media, and technology. It launched its journal, Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology in November 2012.

Fembot Collective, 2020

MIRA Webinar Series – Get Out of Your Silo: How and Why You Should

MIRA Webinar Series: Get out of your Silo: How and why you should

Part of the MIRA Webinar Series

Working with people who are outside of your own area of expertise or interest allows diverse groups to combine their expertise, creating a team that produces results greater than the sum of its parts.

Please join us for a webinar presented by Paula Gardner, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia, the Asper Chair in Communications, and director of the Pulse Lab at McMaster University, via WebEx. Paula takes an interdisciplinary approach to her own research, which has allowed her to expedite experiments and develop solutions that could only have been accomplished with a diverse team.

During this webinar, Paula will share her own approaches to interdisciplinary research, strategies for success, as well as some of the challenges of working with people outside of your discipline — and how to overcome them.

Host: The McMaster Institute for Research on Aging
Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Time: 1 p.m. ETD

Visit the link here:

ABLE Project Awarded Grant from Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI)

The Pulse Lab team, Caitlin McArthur, Stephen Surlin, Adekunle Akinyemi, Rong Zheng, Paula Gardner and Alexandra Papaioannou, have been selected for the Spark Program to develop our project, ABLE-Music: Movement-Music Interactions to Engage Older Adults with Cognitive Impairments. The project will be hosted by Hamilton Health Sciences – GERAS centre.

About the ABLE Project

ABLE is a Co-design project:

  • ABLE platform is co-created with older adults with dementia
  • transforms movement into an art experience (digital painting and musical creation) to enhance wellness (physical, mood, cognitive)

Recent research shows that light intensity exercise is associated with healthy brain aging, ABLE integrates these findings:

  • 10 minutes/short bursts of mild exercise: is associated with enhanced memory (Stubbs et al 2017), enhanced brain volume, improved physical and cognitive health in older adults (Tse et al, 2015)
  • Higher amounts of activity: is linked to reduced rates of cognitive decline (Suwabe et al 2019), increased brain volume (Spartano et al 2018; Suwabe et al 2019)
  • Reducing depression may make us less susceptible to cognitive & memory impairment: Depression ages the brain more quickly (Esetlis 2019; Gaysina 2018; Al Hazzouri et al 2018)
  • Art combined with movement has a synergistic effect: it has the power to enhance mood, physical fitness and cognition (Schiphorst 2007)

The ABLE Project’s design principles involve digital music and painting interactions that will be co-designed with participants, to reflect the memories and preferences of older adults.


Schiphorst, T. (2007a). Really, really small: the palpability of the invisible. In Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI conference on Creativity & Cognition (pp. 7-16). ACM.

June 05, 2018; 90 (23) Greater depressive symptoms, cognition, and markers of brain aging. Northern Manhattan Study. Neurology. Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, Michelle R. Caunca, Juan Carlos Nobrega, Tali Elfassy, Ying Kuen Cheung, Noam Alperin, Chuanhui Dong, Mitchell S.V. Elkind, Ralph L. Sacco, Charles DeCarli, Clinton B. Wright

Dr Darya Gaysina and Amber John. (EDGE Lab (Environment, Development, Genetics and Epigenetics in Psychology and Psychiatry) the University of Sussex) ‘Affective problems and decline in cognitive state in older adults’. 24 May 2018. Psychological Medicine.  https:// from Thursday 24 May 2018.

Dr. Irina Esetlis, Yale School of Medicine. (Research linking depression to brain aging). [Paper] presented Feb. 15, meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise” by Kazuya Suwabe, Kyeongho Byun, Kazuki Hyodo, Zachariah M. Reagh, Jared M. Roberts, Akira Matsushita, Kousaku Saotome, Genta Ochi, Takemune Fukuie, Kenji Suzuki, Yoshiyuki Sankai, Michael A. Yassa, and Hideaki Soya in PNAS. Published September 24 2018.

Association of Accelerometer-Measured Light-Intensity Physical Activity With Brain Volume; The Framingham Heart Study. Nicole L. Spartano, PhD1,2; Kendra L. Davis-Plourde, MA2,3; Jayandra J. Himali, PhD2,4; et al Charlotte Andersson, MD, PhD2,5; Matthew P. Pase, PhD2,6,7,8; Pauline Maillard, PhD9; Charles DeCarli, MD9; Joanne M. Murabito, MD, ScM2,10; Alexa S. Beiser, PhD2,4; Ramachandran S. Vasan, MD2,10,11; Sudha Seshadri, MD2,4,12

The American Journal of Psychiatry, Physical Activity and Incident Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies , Felipe B. Schuch, Ph.D., Davy Vancampfort, Ph.D., Joseph Firth, Ph.D., Simon Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Phillip B. Ward, Ph.D., Edson S. Silva, B.Sc., Mats Hallgren, Ph.D., Antonio Ponce De Leon, Ph.D., Andrea L. Dunn, Ph.D., Andrea C. Deslandes, Ph.D.,Marcelo P. Fleck, Ph.D., Andre F. Carvalho, Ph.D., Brendon Stubbs, Ph.D.

Sports Med Open. 2015 Dec; 1: 37.Published online 2015 Oct 20. Effect of Low-intensity Exercise on Physical and Cognitive Health in Older Adults: a Systematic Review Andy C. Y. Tse, 1 Thomson W. L. Wong,2 and Paul H. Lee3