Gerontechnology for Health Research Program-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Gerontechnology for Health Research Program

Primary CMU-SV Contributors: Patricia Collins, Martin Griss, Ted Selker, Mike Smith

In 2006, efforts began to understand the concerns of older adults in maintaining their independence while obtaining the support needed to ensure their health and well-being. While the initial contextual inquiry and analysis with over 30 older adults revealed that transportation was a primary concern of older adults, health maintenance and social interaction were also important to overall quality of life. These older adults also had basic needs like grocery management, which become progressively more challenging with age. In a 2007 study, we discovered that most older adults do not understand most computer technology and would not use standard keyboard-and-mouse interfaces to accomplish tasks (like grocery management).

In 2007-2008, we focused our gerontechnology research on the grocery management problem: How might older adults track their grocery needs without the need for keyboarding and mousing? Our experiments included investigations of the use of bar codes and Q-codes, as well as RFID tags, to enable a computer system to track product usage for the older adult. Further experiments explored the use of spoken input and touchscreen input, which seem better suited to today’s generation of older adults. Part of our research hypothesis was that it would be possible to integrate commercial, off-the-shelf technology to accomplish the user interface. We found that there were significant obstacles to be overcome in the accuracy and reliability of most of the technology that was available at that time. We did create a grocery ordering and tracking system that integrated all the candidate technologies and demonstrated the feasibility of such a system for use in the homes of older adults.

Since 2009, our efforts have focused exclusively on gerontechnology for health.  Initial investigations included the integration of home health devices with a simple, graphical user interface that could be controlled with touchscreen interactions.  The prototype included the presentation of historical vital signs data in a way that the older adult and appropriate care providers (e.g., physician, adult child) could monitor changes in the older adult’s health.

To further this research effort, we have teamed with Kinnexxus, Inc., which provides computer-based services for older adults and their social support network. In 2010, we received two STTR Phase 1 grants from the National Institute on Aging, in order to investigate the feasibility of integrating home health devices with the Kinnexxus system.  In one project, we have integrated a variety of USB-connected and Bluetooth home health devices (weight scale, blood pressure monitor, blood glucose meter, and pulse oximeter). Kinnexxus has adapted its user interface to be able to display historical data in a way that is easy for older adults to understand and helpful to their social support network. In the other project, we have focused on psychosocial support, in particular, support for those older adults who experience chronic or episodic pain. We have developed three new psychosocial assessment instruments that hold some promise as supporting indicators of pain.  In April and May, 2011, we are conducting a field study with older adults who reside in senior living centers. We have completed a pilot study of the three new psychosocial assessment instruments, compared with two forms of the Cleeland Brief Pain Inventory—one completed on paper and the other completed on a touch screen. One of our hypotheses for this research is that if older adults can share their psychosocial and health status with their social support network, the members of that network can better help the older adults to manage their conditions. Furthermore, we believe that regular, real-time recording of symptoms will provide the older adult’s physician with much more accurate information by which to make treatment decisions.