Phil Elmore knows that the future of senior care will involve the most up-to-date technology, and the CEO of Christian Care Senior Living Communities is on top of it.
In the new “smart care” apartment at the company’s Lakewood Village Senior Living Community in east Fort Worth, tiny sensors embedded under the tile beneath Elmore’s feet send information about the “patient’s” overall activity, as well as changes in balance, gait and weight, wirelessly to a bay of computers in an adjacent room.
The floor, designed and built by engineers from the University of Texas at Arlington, is the centerpiece of a 900-square-foot independent-living apartment that also includes an adjustable bed that monitors pressure points and sleep changes, a mirror that reads variations in appearance indicating health problems and even a mug that works with a coffee table to record blood pressure readings.
The computers analyze the data and alert medical teams or seniors’ relatives of potential problems before they become severe. It’s part of a collaboration with UT Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation and College of Engineering that could “change the face of healthcare,” Elmore said this week.
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“We have a long history of incorporating technology into care, and we are excited about the latest and greatest — what’s next,” Elmore said. “We want to allow people to remain independent as long as possible, and that’s the purpose of this. That’s what everyone wants.”
Project partners will celebrate a milestone Thursday with the apartment’s unveiling. Soon, they hope to move in its first occupants.
The work began several years ago when Carolyn Cason, a nursing professor at UT Arlington who was also vice president for research, recognized a need for technology to help healthcare professionals get vital information about the day-to-day health of seniors and other people with chronic conditions, said Kathryn Daniel, a UT Arlington associate professor of nursing who became the project manager.
Daniel is also director of a nurse practitioner program at UT Arlington that focuses on primary care of older patients. She said the sensors in the apartment take measurements that patients might not always be able to report on their own.
The idea is to monitor “unobtrusively” using nothing “the person has to wear or do or interact with consciously,” said Daniel.
Funding championed by U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, for the concept was “essential,” Daniel said. About $600,000 from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration was spread out over five years. Mesquite-based Christian Care has also invested heavily in the project by donating the use of the apartment.
Barton was set to attend a ceremony Thursday where researchers, UT Arlington officials, Christian Care executives and others will celebrate the project. In a recent statement, he praised the university for its championing of “health and human condition.”
The project “will positively impact senior citizens, people with disabilities and injured veterans. It will also save money for people across the Dallas-Fort Worth area by reducing the number of repeated trips to hospitals for some residents,” Barton said in a statement.
In addition to the technology built by UT Arlington engineers, the apartment features innovations already on the market, such as LG appliances in the kitchen that communicate with one another, a computerized vacuum cleaner, and faucets that come on with a touch. An exercise room with a recumbent bike and Kinect-based tai chi trainer will also help residents maintain their health and give healthcare providers more information about them.
Lakewood Village has about 300 residents, and researchers will soon begin choosing a couple from the independent-living portion of the home to move in. They hope to have several residents stay in the home through the next year to gather as much data as possible and demonstrate what the apartment can accomplish.
Elmore and Gergely Zaruba, one of the UT Arlington computer science and engineering professors behind the apartment, said they hope it will be an active laboratory where new ideas develop and are tested.
“We are trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work,” Zaruba said. “If some new technology comes up, we can bring it here and see if people will actually use it.”