smart care

Nurse creates Smart Care apartment to help seniors

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.”

Original article here by Karen Schmidt

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