Traditional longitudinal aging research involves studying the same individuals over a long period, with measurement intervals typically several years apart. App-based studies have the potential to provide new insights into life-course aging by improving the accessibility, temporal specificity, and real-world integration of data collection. We developed a new research app for iOS named Labs Without Walls to facilitate the study of life-course aging. Combined with data collected using paired smartwatches, the app collects complex data including data from one-time surveys, daily diary surveys, repeated game-like cognitive and sensory tasks, and passive health and environmental data.
The aim of this protocol is to describe the research design and methods of the Labs Without Walls study conducted between 2021 and 2023 in Australia.
Overall, 240 Australian adults will be recruited, stratified by age group (18-25, 26-35, 36-45, 46-55, 56-65, 66-75, and 76-85 years) and sex at birth (male and female). Recruitment procedures include emails to university and community networks, as well as paid and unpaid social media advertisements. Participants will be invited to complete the study onboarding either in person or remotely. Participants who select face-to-face onboarding (n=approximately 40) will be invited to complete traditional in-person cognitive and sensory assessments to be cross-validated against their app-based counterparts. Participants will be sent an Apple Watch and headphones for use during the study period. Participants will provide informed consent within the app and then begin an 8-week study protocol, which includes scheduled surveys, cognitive and sensory tasks, and passive data collection using the app and a paired watch. At the conclusion of the study period, participants will be invited to rate the acceptability and usability of the study app and watch. We hypothesize that participants will be able to successfully provide e-consent, input survey data through the Labs Without Walls app, and have passive data collected over 8 weeks; participants will rate the app and watch as user-friendly and acceptable; the app will allow for the study of daily variability in self-perceptions of age and gender; and data will allow for the cross-validation of app- and laboratory-based cognitive and sensory tasks.
Recruitment began in May 2021, and data collection was completed in February 2023. The publication of preliminary results is anticipated in 2023.
This study will provide evidence regarding the acceptability and usability of the research app and paired watch for studying life-course aging processes on multiple timescales. The feedback obtained will be used to improve future iterations of the app, explore preliminary evidence for intraindividual variability in self-perceptions of aging and gender expression across the life span, and explore the associations between performance on app-based cognitive and sensory tests and that on similar traditional cognitive and sensory tests.