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News release: College of Nursing faculty part of group landing $1.8 million for “smart home” research

SPOKANE, Wash. – An interprofessional team of scientists from Washington State University has landed a $1.77 million grant to research how “smart home” technology can monitor the health and safety of senior citizens from afar.

The National Institute of Nursing Research, one of the organizations that makes up the National Institutes of Health, awarded the grant to:

Fritz - Cook - Schmitter-Edgecombe l-r
Fritz, Cook, Schmitter-Edgecombe, l-r

— 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

Bringing technology together

The scientists are looking to bring together the analytics produced by smart-home sensors and health monitoring and assessment technology, with the judgment and experience of health-care clinicians for automated health assessment. They will design and pilot test smart-home technology to automatically identify health events for adults with chronic conditions in their own homes.

As sensors record information, a health-care professional will identify data that’s relevant to a person’s health and safety, then engineers will create computer algorithms to recognize meaningful behavioral patterns. For example, a sensor might detect motion in a person’s kitchen around the same time each night as the subject gets a glass of water before bed; the clinician would flag that pattern as important and the engineer would create an algorithm to trigger an automatic alert to caregivers in the absence of that motion.

Living longer at home

The research has the potential to provide dramatic benefits. By extending the ability of older adults to age in place through real-time assessment and intervention, these technologies can extend the functional independence of our aging society, reduce caregiver burden and improve quality of life.

The “clinician-in-the-loop” research project builds 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 over 98 percent accuracy more than 40 normal activities of daily living and behavior patterns for older adults.

The research also builds on Fritz’s innovative pilot work conducted at Touchmark on South Hill, http://www.touchmarkspokane.com, a retirement community in Spokane, Wash. There, she has deployed five health-assistive smart homes, with support from the Touchmark Foundation. Fritz 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 the new grant will again be conducted at Touchmark on South Hill.

The five-year grant started on Aug. 1. It includes funding for a nursing Ph.D. student to work as a research assistant with a nine-month tuition waiver and stipend. Interested students can email Fritz for an application at shelly.fritz@wsu.edu.