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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,, 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

Community fitness program helped overweight teens in Coeur d’Alene

Image of two feet in running shoes.

Image of two feet in running shoes.

By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

Five years ago, researchers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, wanted to test whether overweight teenagers would be receptive to a community-based fitness program that included exercise, goal-setting, and nutrition coaching.

As it turned out, finding 20 overweight teens who wanted to take part “was the easiest recruitment I ever had for a study,” said Dr. Marian Wilson, an assistant professor at the WSU College of Nursing. “We had kids lining up to get their BMI measured.”

And it worked – at the end of the 12-week study, the teens showed improvement in blood pressure, they could do more push-ups and sit-ups, they could walk faster on a treadmill, their “screen time” was down and they expressed greater confidence. The results of the study have just been published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

Shawn Burke brought the idea for the community-based fitness program to Wilson when she was clinical research coordinator at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene. Burke worked as a personal trainer and saw a need, he said.  » More …

Research spotlight: Predicting hospitalization for mental illness could aid early intervention

Mason Burley
Photo of Mason Burley
Doctoral candidate Mason Burley defends his thesis on April 20, 2017.

Research Spotlight: Mason Burley, “Evaluating Risk for Psychiatric Re-Hospitalization: a Recurrent Event History Analysis” (Individual Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program)

The treatment of people with serious mental illness has changed dramatically over the last 50 years, from long-term institutionalization to community-based care. But the community-care system is lacking, and some people with serious mental illness are repeatedly hospitalized, released and re-admitted, a costly and disruptive cycle.

Washington State University doctoral student Mason Burley wanted to identify consistent and reliable factors associated with psychiatric re-hospitalization to help guide public policy and treatment options. » More …

Research Spotlight: Being overweight significantly increases odds of chronic pain

Portrait of Teresa Bigand
Photo of Teresa Bigand gesturing to her research poster
Teresa Bigand describes her research at the Inland Northwest Research Symposium.

Research spotlight: Teresa Bigand, “Examining Risk for Overweight Status Among Adults with Chronic Pain

Doctoral student Teresa Bigand’s research concludes that being overweight significantly increases an adult’s odds of suffering chronic pain. In fact, the higher a person’s body mass index (BMI), the greater their likelihood of having multiple chronic pain conditions, she says.

So which comes first, the pain or the weight?

“One study seems to suggest that the weight comes first,” she said. “That’s more exciting for me, because if we can get people to get their weight under control, we can control two different disease processes at once.”

Bigand, who entered the WSU College of Nursing PhD program in 2016, is collecting data for analysis and hopes eventually to be able to identify factors that correlate with pain intensity and overweight status – sleep patterns, for example, or depression.

The former psychiatric and medical-surgical nurse is teaching at the WSU College of Nursing, and will present her findings at the Washington State Nursing Association convention in May, as well as a national nursing conference in September. Bigand also recently received a scholarship from the Inland Empire Nurses Association to support her work.

Poverty a frequent barrier to achieving health goals, research found

Older people with multiple chronic conditions often face barriers that aren’t considered in setting goals for better health, a WSU College of Nursing undergraduate student found.

Mariah Petersen, who’ll graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, will present her findings at the Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) on Monday.

Petersen found that poverty was a common “contextual” barrier to achieving health goals. For example, 23.8 percent of patients whose goal was to lose weight cited poverty as a reason they couldn’t achieve that goal, while 27.3 percent said poverty was a barrier to getting more exercise. Peterson said poverty manifests itself as a barrier by making it harder for patients to buy healthy food, for example, or to work out at a gym. » More …

Research First Friday to focus on managing chronic pain in people with opioid addiction

Marian Wilson

Marian Wilson

The WSU College of Nursing’s Dr. Marian Wilson, PhD, MPH, RN-BC, will present results at Research First Friday from a randomized, controlled trial that used an online program to manage chronic pain in people with opioid addiction. She’ll be joined by research coordinator Michael Orr in the presentation, Engaging Adults with Chronic Pain and Opioid Addiction in Online Pain Self-management.

Subjects in opioid addiction treatment programs used an online program that guided them in relaxation, positive thinking and exercise, Dr. Wilson said. The research was conducted under the auspices of the College of Nursing’s Program of Excellence in Addictions Research.

Dr. Wilson’s team will be presenting results of the trial at conferences this spring. WSU College of Nursing PhD candidate Mary Lee Roberts will attend the 36th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Pain Society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to present her poster, “Receptivity to an online pain self-management program among people with persistent pain in opioid addiction treatment.” Myles Finlay, a research assistant and psychology student at Gonzaga University, will present his poster, “Pain and affective symptoms in chronic pain patients in opioid addiction treatment recruited to test an online pain management program” at The College of Problems on Drug Dependence (CPDD) 79th Annual Scientific Meeting in Montreal, Canada.

The co-investigators are Dr. John Roll, Dr. Matt Layton, and Dr. Celestina Barbosa-Leiker. This study was funded by WSU Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program.

Hear about this exciting research from the team at April’s Research First Friday: Friday April 7th, 12:10-1:15 PM.

Presentation locations are:

  • SNRS 401
  • VMMC 102Q
  • YNUR 104

For those who can’t attend, Research First Friday will be videostreamed and archived. Contact Kathy Bridwell for the link, at

1 hr CE

This continuing nursing education activity was approved by the Washington State Nurses Association

Approver of Continuing Nursing Education (A-CNE), an accredited approver by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation

Online Management Tools Help Ease Chronic Pain

Marian Wilson

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

Marian WilsonSPOKANE, Wash.—Washington State University researchers have found that people can manage chronic pain and reduce their reliance on opioids through an Internet-based program that teaches non-medical alternatives like increased physical activity, thinking more positively and dealing with emotions.

Marian Wilson, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing, tracked 43 people with chronic non-cancer pain as they went through an eight-week course of online tools to manage psychological, social and health issues associated with chronic pain. Compared to a similar-sized control group, the participants reported that they adopted more practices to change negative thinking patterns and use relaxation techniques to help control pain.
» More …

Martin Schiavenato Receives Life Science Discovery Funding (LSDF)

Martin Schiavenato

Martin Schiavenato

Washington State University College of Nursing Associate Professor Martin Schiavenato received funding for his work around premature infant pain detection. “LSDF grants help commercialize major medical breakthroughs and attract private funding from external investors,” says LSDF executive director John DesRosier. “These new awards help move promising treatments and diagnostics more quickly from the lab bench to patients in need.” Dr. Schiavenato’s grant received $235,000 for work to be completed over two years beginning in August 2015. His focus is to develop a device that detects, measures, and continuously reports pain levels in infants in neonatal intensive care units.
» More …

WSU Spokane Receives Grant

Patricia Butterfield

Children’s Health Disparities Program Launched by Dean Emerita Patricia Butterfield, Chancellor Lisa Brown & the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic (STHC)

SPOKANE, Wash. – Healthy housing is the focus of a novel collaboration between Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane and its community neighbors, funded by a $100,000 grant from the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund.

The “University-Community Partnership to Reduce Children’s Health Disparities” will foster student engagement, innovative practice at Spokane’s Teaching Health Clinic and research addressing healthy housing.

The project is inspired by WSU College of Nursing professor Patricia Butterfield’s research on substandard housing and environmental health risks.

“Our previous research, conducted in Montana and western Washington, reduced health risks to children by focusing on their living conditions and homes,” she said. “Now that work will take root in Spokane neighborhoods.”
» More …