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 A Place for Aging. Story by Anita Neal Harrison.

 

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Shaw can pay for her care out of pocket, but most seniors could not. Nationwide, roughly two-thirds of nursing home residents receive Medicaid assistance, says Barbara Manard, vice president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, an association of nonprofit organizations that range from Meals On Wheels to nonprofit nursing homes. None of these seniors could live at TigerPlace, because it is a 100 percent private-pay facility.

"We serve the few, the proud and the wealthy," says Charles Servey, Americare's executive director of TigerPlace. "We have an excellent high-end, hotel-like setting for a group of seniors who have planned well and have the means to afford this level of service."

Regardless, well-to-do seniors will not be the only ones benefiting from TigerPlace. That's because the research conducted there will eventually make life easier and safer for all seniors who want to age in their homes.

Some of the most promising investigations have focused on technology, among them a project using data from electronic sensors to enhance patient monitoring capabilities. The collaborative project, involving faculty and students from MU's College of Engineering and researchers from the University of Virginia, entails developing an improved means of alerting TigerPlace staff when residents fall, sleep fitfully or spend too much time just sitting.

"The students and faculty are developing algorithms that allow a computer to sort out what's normal and what's not normal for every individual and then, when necessary, to send out an alert," Rantz says.

The researchers say such sensors could benefit stay-at-home seniors by alerting remote caregivers to problems before they get too serious. "A good example of that is bed restlessness," says Marjorie Skubic, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering who is working on the project. "Restlessness in sleep can be an early symptom that there's a problem. It could be a sign of infection or pain." People often don't realize they're not sleeping well, Skubic continues, but a bed sensor would catch changes in sleep patterns and allow caregivers to intervene before the underlying problem resulted in loss of function.

Testing the sensors and other new technologies out in the community would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, Rantz says. TigerPlace provides the University with the perfect place to conduct research safely and easily. It also provides numerous willing subjects.

"The people who live here are movers and shakers," Rantz says. "They're educated folks, many of whom are connected to MU, and they recognize the value of research. They like to help us as researchers develop things that can help other people in their homes. They see this as a contribution they can make to help other people."

These contributions have already attracted international attention. Researchers from across the globe have invited members of MU's senior tech team to give lectures. Public policymakers are also paying attention.

"The state is interested because they see this as something that consumers want and that will, in the long run, help them reduce the use of nursing homes, one of the largest state budget demands," Rantz says.

Meanwhile, hundreds of elderly Columbia residents have already benefited from the research. "They are so appreciative," Rantz says. "What people want is to be able to stay in their own homes. What we are learning will hopefully keep people longer in their homes, safer in their homes and more independent in their homes."

       
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Published by the Office of Research.

©2006 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.