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Kay Connelly
School of Informatics and Computing

James Boyd
CLEAR Health Information

Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011

NSF grant will help underserved older adults age in place

Sept. 1, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will help Indiana University researchers better understand how technologies can assist underserved older adults as they age in place. The grant has been awarded to School of Informatics and Computing Associate Professor Kay Connelly and Principal Research Scientist Kelly Caine, co-directors of the Pervasive Health Information Technology (PHIT) lab and core members of the Center for Law, Ethics, and Applied Research in Health Information.

"The shifting demographics associated with an aging population require novel solutions to meet the health needs of the growing number of older adults around the world," Connelly said. "Since caring for individuals in assisted-living and long-term care facilities costs nearly twice that of care for their non-institutionalized counterparts, and older adults prefer to stay in their own home, technologies that support aging in place are one way to address these pressing problems."

Connelly and Caine said their research will focus primarily on the groups at the highest risk for extensive care and services: individuals from rural areas and underprivileged urban areas.

"Of those two subpopulations, rural individuals make up one fifth of the elderly population and are at the highest risk for requiring long-term care services and support," Caine said. "Similarly, urban-dwelling older adults in low-socioeconomic-status neighborhoods often experience higher rates of functional loss and poorer overall health outcomes. Thus, there is a lot of room to help both of these groups."

The project will ultimately provide guidance to community members, service providers, and governmental agencies about how to wield technology to enable those populations to age in place. Researchers will identify and analyze existing technologies, then compare and contrast those with the specific needs of low-SES older adults.

"We'll take into account factors like proximity of caregivers, access to transportation, access to health services, technology infrastructure, and attitudes toward technology," Connelly said.

Once the guidelines are established, Connelly and Caine will customize a suite of technologies for the specific needs of the two populations. The researchers will then be able to assess how older adults use and adjust to the technologies, and how that may help their ability to age in place.

"The broader impact in terms of benefit to society is inherent in the research," Caine said. "We're looking for ways to provide more appealing, less invasive, less costly options while simultaneously serving underserved caregivers and older adults."

The grant was awarded from the NSF's new Smart Health and Wellbeing program, which seeks improvements in safe, effective, efficient, equitable and patient-centered health and wellness services through innovations in computer and information science and engineering. The Smart Health and Wellbeing program aims to facilitate large-scale discoveries that yield long-term, transformative impact in how we treat illness and maintain our health. Besides Indiana University, teams from MIT, Georgia Tech and Carnegie-Mellon were among the universities to receive one of the 21 awards given by the Smart Health and Wellbeing program in this, its first year.