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NIH grant supports tailoring eldercare health alert system for consumer use

Members of the Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology at the University of Missouri have done breakthrough work in utilizing sensor technology to alert health professionals to potential health issues for senior citizens living in their own homes or in assisted living facilities.

Marge Skubic Portrait

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor and Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology Director Marge Skubic and a team that includes fellow EECS Professor Jim Keller and leading researchers from the MU Schools of Social Work, Nursing and Medicine recently received a four-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant, “Customized Health Alerts and Consumer-Centered Interfaces using In-Home and Wearable Sensors.”

Now, thanks to a new grant from the National Institutes of Health, the same team will investigate tailoring the system to alert the patients themselves or family members, providing actionable data that’s easy for non-health professionals to use.

Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor and Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology Director Marge Skubic and a team that includes fellow EECS Professor Jim Keller and leading researchers from the MU Schools of Social Work, Nursing and Medicine recently received a four-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant, “Customized Health Alerts and Consumer-Centered Interfaces using In-Home and Wearable Sensors.”

Joining the Mizzou Engineering faculty on the grant are:

  • Richelle Koopman, associate professor of Family and Community Medicine
  • Kari Lane, assistant professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing
  • Mihail Popescu, associate professor of Health Management and Informatics
  • Marilyn Rantz, professor emerita in the Sinclair School of Nursing
  • Erin Robinson, assistant professor of Social Work

“Now, we’re figuring out how to send this information to consumers — either older adults themselves or their family members,” Skubic explained. “The type of interface, the type of display for the alerts and the way alerts have to go out, it’s going to have to be different if we want to have consumers be able to act on it.”

Previous research used Microsoft Kinect sensors, bed sensors and more to monitor gait, heart rate, stride length, potential mental health indicators and more in order to predict potential health issues, allowing senior citizens to stay in their home longer. This new grant will allow the team to look into ways of developing a system to deliver the information in an easily digestible manner to the patients themselves or relatives or friends aiding with their care.

“One thing we want to try is to make the algorithm smarter and more specific, trying to customize the alerts to the individual a little bit more,” Skubic said. “And, No. 2, it’s the way the information gets displayed to the consumers, which we think also has to change. Those are two different approaches and we’ll use simulations to try and improve this system.”

Rantz, the nursing lead of the Center, said that actionable, easily understood information could help seniors make better preventative health decisions to avoid potential issues and allow them to remain in their homes longer.

“We need to make the use of the information from the sensors very easily understood by them,” she said. “They will need to take action on some of the information, like making an appointment with a primary care provider for an evaluation or physical therapist to improve their walking. This is important work for helping people!”

Robinson was excited about the possible empowerment such a project could provide to patients and their families.

“By building off years of prior research, this study will allow older adults who use the sensor technology, and their family members or loved ones, to view their sensor data and receive personalized health alerts. … Now, instead of clinical staff, the end users will be the older adults themselves and their family members or loved ones,” Robinson explained.

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