An older adult user sits on the left of the image, holding a smartphone with the Prospecfit app open in a think-aloud testing session. Researcher sits on the right, listening to what the user is saying.

The ProspecFit project aimed to provide memory training by facilitating an effective memory technique and making it available on smartphones through iterative design.

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Prospective memory lapses are the most common form of memory lapses faced (72%). They involve forgetting to perform intended actions such as taking medication after a meal. Memory training can help tackle them. ProspecFit uses a memory technique, called “when-then technique” or implementation intentions, which has been effective at improving prospective memory but is typically taught verbally and in lab settings.

The project draws insights from a focus group and preliminary studies. ProspecFit has been evaluated with 10 adults (61 to 80 years old) through 12-day in situ testing as well as pre- and post-testing to test the effectiveness of the digital memory training. View the video below for more details.


I led this research:

  • Concept development
  • Developed ProspecFit’s Android application
  • Designed and conducted focus group, usability testing and evaluation studies

Assistance in development: Adrian Robertson, Thisum Buddhika and Vipula Dissanayake Assistance in think-aloud testing: Yvonne Chua and Haimo Zhang


Focus Group

To start off the project, I first wanted to understand my target users, older adults, and gain insights into the types of memory lapses faced, strategies used to tackle them and reasons behind memory lapses. I conducted a focus group with 8 older adults.

Key Findings:

  • Out of the types of memory lapses faced in everyday life (attention, episodic, prospective and semantic), they most frequently faced prospective memory lapses.
  • Writing to-do lists, using calendars and reminders were among the commonly-used solutions. A few mentioned memory training methods such as doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
  • The use of Lumosity, a memory training app, by one participant sparked interest in other participants to try it for themselves. Their interest was because the app gave daily brain exercises, they saw it as a way to keep their brains active, and most of them had smartphones to use the app.

Despite current solutions, the issue of prospective memory lapses persists and commonly-used solutions only support memory but may not enhance or maintain memory functions.

Memory training apps and methods have been used to fill this gap and keep the mind active. However, the cognitive exercises and games presented in many memory training methods are abstract and may be hard for users to apply their learning to their own daily tasks.

Development of ProspecFit Application

Concept and Memory Technique

The idea was to provide memory training by guiding users on how to apply a memory technique to naturalistic tasks (daily life tasks).

The “when-then technique” or implementation intentions is a known memory method for strengthening prospective memory. It has two main steps:

  1. Formulating an intention sentence. Example: “When I leave home at noon on Wednesday, then I will bring Matt’s gift.”
  2. Visualise yourself encountering the situation cues (Example: the door of your home, a clock that shows noon) and then performing your intended action (Example: picking up the gift and placing it in your bag).

The four images below show screenshots of the instructions given to users to explain the technique.


I designed mock-ups and wireframe sketches of an application that would guide users to apply the technique. The video below shows a walkthrough of the initial mock-up.


The app was implemented on Android using Android Studio (Java). User responses and usage details were stored and retrieved by the app via Firebase database.

The image shows 8 screens within the app, 5 at the top, 3 at the bottom. On the top row, the first one from the left is the Home tab which show the option to move to the Messages tab. It also shows three buttons (I Forgot, Daily Diary and Begin Task). Selecting the Messages tab, shows the second screen which shows users a button to start a 1h time slot for memory training. Once that button is pressed, it shows four tasks in a list. If you select a task, it shows you the task instruction (third screen). When you click OK, it brings you the fourth screen which lets you fill in the situation cues to form an intention sentence for the task. This is the first step of the memory technique. Upon selecting next step, it shows the completed intention sentence and users can start a 30-second timer. On the bottom row, the first screen from the left shows the forgetting log entry screen which opens when you press the I Forgot button from the Home page. The second screen shows the Daily Diary entry screen. The last screen shows the Begin Task web app.
User flow for ProspecFit app

Figure 1 shows the user flow and screenshots of the ProspecFit app.

To facilitate the memory training:

  1. Users start out at the Home screen and could select the Messages tab
  2. When they choose to start a 1h training slot, they will receive 4 memory tasks.
  3. After choosing a task, the task instructions are shown.
  4. Upon confirmation of the task instruction, users are led to the first step of the memory technique, Formulation, where they fill in situation cues in an intention sentence.
  5. In the next step, Visualisation, they are instructed to visualise performing the intended action and could start a timer that rings after 30 seconds (recommended time for visualisation according to previous work).

Other than facilitating the memory technique, the app also lets users spontaneously record forgetful moments (Forgetting Log), reflect on their memory and confidence in their memory in a digital Diary and link to a web application where they can complete their memory tasks (Begin Task). These features were included to help with conducting the 12-day in-situ study.


Details on the design process, user studies and implementation for ProspecFit have been published in a paper in IMWUT 2019 (see paper below).

In our 12-day, in-situ and between-group study (Group 1: Treatment - with digital memory training and Group 2: Control - without digital memory training), we showed that:

  • The digital memory training group were significantly more prompt (more on-time) at completing their memory tasks than the control group.
  • The digital memory training group also reported improvement in their prospective memory.

Feedback from two users are portrayed in the images below (alternative text available).

Users feedback after 12 days of using ProspecFit. I found the use of the app to prompt my memory to be quite useful and in the future, I would continue to use it. It was simple and it functioned well. It coached me to use memory prompts by association with events in order to remember what I had to do.
Another users feedback after 12 days of using ProspecFit. I saw it actually helping me remember. I became far less worried about it. And by the end, I found that I will certainly use some of the techniques, maybe adapit it to my own life and the way I already remember things. But I have found it a very valuable experience.

Samantha Chan
Samantha Chan
Postdoctoral Fellow

I create wearable, AI and digital interfaces to enhance human cognition and memory at the MIT Media Lab.