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October 2017

Grant funds research on smart-home tools for extending age-in-place possibilities

Research funded by a new grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) has the potential to extend the ability of older adults to age in place, according to an inter-professional team of scientists.

The $1.77 million grant will fund a five-year "clinician-in-the-loop" project conducted by three Washington State University professors with nursing, technology engineering, and psychology backgrounds. They will remotely monitor the health and safety of elderly citizens.

The trio of scientists will design and pilot test smart home sensors to automatically identify health events in the homes of adults with chronic conditions. The health monitoring and assessment technology, coupled with the judgment and experience of health-care clinicians, will enable automated health assessments.

As sensors record information, a health-care professional will identify data that's relevant to a person's health and safety; engineers will then create computer algorithms to recognize meaningful behavioral patterns.

The research has the potential to provide dramatic benefits, according to a statement from WSU. Through real-time assessment and intervention, scientists believe smart-home technologies can extend the functional independence of an aging society while reducing caregiver burden and improving quality of life.

The new grant builds on innovative pilot work conducted by the three grant recipients, who include:

  • Roschelle "Shelly" Fritz, assistant professor in the College of Nursing in Vancouver;
  • Diane Cook, the Huie-Rogers chair professor in the School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science;
  • Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, the Herbert L. Eastlick professor in the Department of Psychology.

Cook and Schmitter-Edgecome have worked to develop a health-assistive smart home that uses intelligent algorithms capable of detecting and labeling - with over 98 percent accuracy - more than 40 normal activities of daily living and behavior patterns for older adults.

Fritz previously conducted research at Touchmark on South Hill where, with support from that retirement community's foundation, she deployed five health-assistive smart homes. She is evaluating the clinical relevance of raw sensor data so the intelligent algorithms can be trained to detect health changes in older adults with multiple chronic conditions.

Research under NINR's new grant, which started on Aug. 1, will again be conducted at the Touchmark retirement community. Funding for a nursing Ph.D. student to work as a research assistant with a nine-month tuition waiver and stipend is included in the grant.

NINR is one of 27 Institutes that comprise the National Institutes of Health. Its mission is to promote and improve the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations.