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Technology Helps Seniors Live Safely and Independently at Home

Sensors used at TigerPlace now available to aging adults in the Columbia area

May 11th, 2015

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – For more than 10 years, two University of Missouri researchers have researched and developed technology to help people age in place safely and independently. The research started at TigerPlace, an independent housing facility in Columbia, which was developed by the University of Missouri in collaboration with Americare Systems Inc. Now, the researchers are taking their technology into aging adults’ own homes through Sinclair@Home, a service through Sinclair Home Care of the MU Sinclair School of Nursing.

VIDEO: Sensor System for Fall Detection Uses Privacy-Protecting Images

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“The most important purpose of the sensor network is to warn registered nurse (RN) care coordinators, the older adults and family of potential changes that are happening with the older person,” said Marilyn Rantz, Curators Professor and Helen E. Nahm Chair in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing. “This is the really exciting thing about the technology. Sensors throughout the home detect small changes and can actually predict health issues. RN care coordinators receive alerts to take a closer look at the sensor information and the resident. Our previous research has shown that health problems are detected one to two weeks earlier in individuals who live with the sensors. This gives much needed advance warning so interventions can be started earlier, and major health events or hospitalizations avoided.”

Sinclair@Home currently is offering this service to individuals in the Columbia area who have high-speed internet connections. The service includes the sensors, sensor network and the off-site support of Sinclair Home Care nurses.

The sensor network unobtrusively gathers information about individuals’ health. The health data automatically are analyzed by the system to look for changes in behavior that indicate a health issue – such as a fall, pneumonia or some other infection or other health problem – might occur. RN care coordinators then intervene before the issue becomes more serious.

“With our network, there is nothing for the customers to wear and no buttons to push,” said Marjorie Skubic, director of the MU Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology and a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the MU College of Engineering. “Fall-risk and motion sensors are placed in highly used areas of their homes, and a bed sensor fits beneath the mattress and cannot be seen or felt. Automated alerts inform care coordinators of increasing fall risk, so they can intervene to help the person get stronger again and avoid falls.”

Although the primary purpose of the sensor system is not emergency response, fall detection alerts do function as “real-time” alerts.

“When an individual falls, nurses and a designated loved-one get an immediate alert via smart phone or tablet,” Rantz said. “These messages have a link that actually shows in a shadow-like, privacy-protecting image, what happened in the fall. This helps the family and care coordinators provide help quickly and also know what type of injury, if any, resulted from the fall.”

These sensor systems currently are in use at TigerPlace in 12 other Americare assisted-living facilities in mid-Missouri, including ones in Columbia, Ashland, Jefferson City, Boonville, Fulton, Hermann and Mexico; all of these sites are involved in research projects.

“Our purpose with the research was always to reach out to the community, to people living at home,” Rantz said. “The aim is prevention, not only detection, so adults can stay safe and independent while aging in place.”

Sinclair@Home is a service of Sinclair Home Care of the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing. For more information or to sign up for the service, contact a Katy Musterman, RN care coordinator at TigerPlace, at 573-256-4800.