“Aging in place” has been on Carolyn Cason’s mind for at least 15 years. Before retiring this year, Cason, MSN, PhD, RN, was a professor and associate dean for research in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at University of Texas Arlington.
Now she and associate professor Kathryn Daniel, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, GNP-BC, AGSF, are seeing that concept become reality as the Smart Care apartment project is finalized.
“The Smart Care apartment helps seniors live safely and independently while having preventive help in place,” Cason said. The apartment is a specially equipped living situation where technology — such as a pressure sensitive floor to monitor and evaluate walking gaits and weight changes and a noninvasive camera embedded in the bathroom wall that reveals changes in a person’s skin color and expression — can alert health providers and family to potential signs of increased illness.
Collaboration and funding
Cason initiated collaboration toward aging in place with UTA’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering in 2005; discussions led to $600,000 five-year HHS funding in 2009. Since then, Daniel, a former PhD student of Cason’s, has been managing the project. Now retired, Cason plans to offer her skills in a volunteer role, consulting and possibly grant writing.
“Cason wrote the original grant and had the vision,” Daniel said. “I’ve helped put it together.” The technology can improve preventive in-home healthcare for the seniors, while increasing efficiency and cost effectiveness of care by healthcare professionals.
For example, Daniel said the apartment would be useful for congestive heart failure patients; the pressure-sensitive floor can monitor weight continuously, indicating when a patient needs adjustment of diuretics based on weight change. “If they don’t adjust their meds, the floor could possibly connect to the medication system and adjust it for them,” Daniel said.
Partnership with senior community
Securing a residence to install the technology was the project’s biggest hurdle, Daniel said. The 2 1/2-year search resulted in a partnership with a senior community in Fort Worth that is providing a two-bedroom apartment. This summer, seniors are volunteering for one-month residencies in the apartment while the UTA team captures data about the residents’ movements and activity.
“We need to find trends to develop the algorithms to understand the potential onset of illness,” Cason said. The process could take 12-18 months. Affordability is another issue: How can the technology be affordable so it can be retrofitted into people’s homes?
Meanwhile, the goal is unchanged: helping seniors remain at home longer. “It’s sort of the ultimate preventative healthcare,” Cason said. “If we can anticipate an illness event before it occurs, we’re doing a great deal to improve quality of life and make an impact on healthcare cost.”
[accordion title=”Nursing, engineering collaborate” load=”hide”]Health is a theme common to University of Texas Arlington’s College of Nursing and the computer science and engineering department, according to Caroyln Cason, MSN, PhD, RN.
The former professor and associate dean for research in UT College of Nursing helped create the concept of a Smart Care apartment for seniors. She collaborated with Manfred Huber, PhD, associate professor in the College of Engineering. Huber and Professor Gergely Zaruba, PhD, have led research, design and deployment of smart home and assistive technologies for the project; students from both disciplines have participated at various stages.
“The highest visibility — and most work — went into the pressure-sensitive floor that covers the entire apartment,” Zaruba said. The first part of the project was heavy on engineering and deployment issues, and “it was great to be able to pick the brains of several nursing professors as to what technologies would actually be helpful.”
The collaboration has resulted in a strong working relationship; Zaruba believes this partnership can advance the understanding of how technology can make a safer living environment for the elderly. “Hopefully we will also be able to show which technologies are especially useful to increase medication and treatment adherence,” he said.[/accordion]