OHSU

$7 Million Funds OHSU Study Of 'Enabling Technologies'

12/07/06   Portland, Ore.

NIH Bioengineering Research Partnership will track in-home activities of nearly 300 elders

Oregon Health & Science University has received a federal grant to continue studying whether continuous monitoring of elders' in-home activities can pick up mental and physical changes that may signal declining health.

The National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health awarded a five-year, $7 million Bioengineering Research Partnership grant to OHSU's Oregon Center for Aging and Technology, or ORCATECH. Formed in 2004, ORCATECH studies and develops "enabling technologies" to discretely assess elders for memory changes that may impair their ability to live independently. Changes in physical activity have been shown to precede changes in memory.

BRP's are multidisciplinary research teams that bring together bioengineering experts with basic and clinical investigators to study and develop methods for preventing, detecting, diagnosing and treating diseases, as well as better understanding health and behavior, according to the NIH.

"Our rapidly aging population will result in an increasing number of people at risk for loss of independence through dementia, frailty and other syndromes of aging," said ORCATECH's director, Jeffrey Kaye, M.D., OHSU professor of neurology in the School of Medicine and biomedical engineering in the School of Science & Engineering.

"This BRP grant will allow ORCATECH to quickly head off this impending strain on our health care system by speeding up the process for developing and testing enabling technologies through a large network of monitored homes we've established in the community."

The network of monitored homes includes elder-inhabited residences throughout the Portland area where the new monitoring technologies will be tested. Each home will be outfitted with a basic set of devices for continuous, remote assessment of activity and computer use, in which fluctuations can point to possible problems with cognition and mobility. These devices include motion and door sensors to track walking speed and overall in-home activity, and computers outfitted with software that can detect patterns that indicate memory changes.

The pilot phase of the BRP is under way with 13 volunteers enrolled. The BRP also will fund a second phase, which will follow up to 250 elders ages 80 and older over three years.

Jim Mertz, president and chief executive officer of Willamette View, a Portland continuing care retirement community and ORCATECH partner, said participation in the BRP study is a natural for the facility and its 525 residents, many of whom have volunteered for past aging and Alzheimer's disease research projects.

"Willamette View was excited to be invited to take part in the testing of technology that will benefit the lives of current residents, future residents and seniors in the community by connecting them to doctors and other health care providers in a timely fashion," Mertz said. "Our residents really embrace being a part of OHSU's studies. It's fun for them."

Vassar Byrd, executive director of Rose Villa, another continuing care retirement community partnering with OHSU on ORCATECH's BRP study, said many of its 250 residents are eager to participate in such research because they are "very forward thinking, very community oriented and they think it would be a benefit to the greater good."

"A lot of them feel, in some ways, victimized by technology, but our residents really get it that this kind of noninvasive technology can be very freeing for them," Byrd said. And if the results of the BRP study can lead to early diagnoses of many of the problems associated with aging, "it's not a negative at all. There's tremendous potential with this technology, and anything that will keep residents independent longer we will use."

Other partners working on ORCATECH's BRP include OHSU's Layton Aging & Alzheimer's Disease Center, and departments of Neurology, Biomedical Engineering and Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology; Spry Learning Company; Elite Care; Pultronics; HomeFree; Intel Corp.'s Digital Health Group; and the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. 

For more information about ORCATECH, visit its Web site at www.orcatech.org. Visit www.bme.ogi.edu/POCL/unobtrusive_continuous.php for information about ORCATECH's Point of Care Laboratory.

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