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WSU grant expands smart-home research at Spokane facility

A team of scientists from Washington State University has landed a $1.77 million grant furthering research on how smart-home technology can remotely monitor the health and safety of seniors.

It also will build on pilot work conducted at the Spokane retirement community of Touchmark on South Hill. At that facility, one of the scientists involved has deployed five health-assistive smart homes, with support from the Touchmark Foundation.

The grant researchers are 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 and Computer Science; and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, the Herbert L. Eastlick professor in the Department of Psychology.

The project draws together an academic blend of nursing, technology engineers and psychologists. Multiple in-home sensors can detect movement made by residents during daily tasks of living, while other sensors might pick up temperature or vibrations.

Meanwhile, information is relayed to computers to track the patterns and wellness of fragile elders to help them live independently in their homes.

With the grant, the scientists will look at bringing together the analytics produced by smart-home sensors along with health monitoring and assessment technology, while incorporating health-care clinicians for automated health assessments.

Additionally, they will further design and pilot-test the smart-home technology to identify health events for elderly adults.

As sensors record information, a health-care professional will identify data that’s relevant to a person’s health and safety. Engineers will create computer algorithms to recognize meaningful behavior patterns.

As an example, a sensor might detect a motion in a person’s kitchen around the same time each night when someone gets a glass of water before bed. A clinician would flag that pattern as important, and the engineer would create something to trigger an alert to caregivers if that motion ceases.

The research also has the potential of providing benefits for older adults to age in place through real-time assessment and intervention. The technologies could extend the functional independence of the aging society, reduce caregiver burden and improve quality of life, a WSU press release said.

It will expand on the work of Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe in developing a health-assistive smart home that uses intelligent algorithms capable of detecting and labeling with accuracy more than 40 normal activities of daily living and behavior patterns for older adults.

The project also builds on Fritz’s pilot work at Touchmark involving the several 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 chronic conditions.

Research under the grant will again be conducted at Touchmark. The five-year grant period started Aug. 1 and included funding for a nursing Ph.D student to work as a research assistant. The National Institute of Nursing Research, one of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the grant.


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