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Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies receives $9.5 million grant to help older adults

June 8, 2011

A five-year, $9.5 million grant has been awarded to a collaborative research program led by the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The purpose of the grant is to develop innovations that help older adults remain in their homes as long as possible. The grant comes from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), whose mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care for all Americans.

The grant will bring the center’s research team together with engineers from two other research centers based in the UW–Madison Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering: the Driving Simulation Laboratory and the RFID Laboratory. Experts from UW–Madison’s Mass Communication Research Center, geriatricians, specialists from Wisconsin’s State Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources and community advocates from around the state will also participate in the collaborative. The Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging and some of the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Centers will be implementing and demonstrating new approaches. All will work together as an Active Aging Research Center to solve the problems that often cause older adults to leave their homes: falls, unreliable home care, difficulty managing a chronic disease, and declining driving skills.

Principal investigator David H. Gustafson, professor of industrial engineering at UW–Madison, directs the project, titled “Bringing Communities and Technology Together for Healthy Aging.”

Says Gustafson, “This study holds great potential for helping older adults continue to live long and productive lives in their own homes. It’s also an exciting opportunity for state and local governments to work together with the university to achieve this goal.”

The study will aim to improve elders’ experiences living at home by making an online support system called CHESS (the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System) available to elders and their caregivers and families. CHESS consists of online information and communication tools tailored to chronic and terminal conditions. The system has been shown in clinical trials to improve health behavior, quality of life and even survival in advanced cancer. This study will develop a new CHESS system called E-CHESS to support older adults and their informal caregivers.

The research team plans to integrate E-CHESS with promising monitoring innovations such as GPS and radio-frequency identification, or RFID. E-CHESS features will be tailored to the user’s needs and preferences through mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop and Web-enabled TV devices. Various elements of the system will make driving easier and safer, monitor home health services, encourage older adults to take part in a falls prevention program and help them communicate with health care providers and family members.

The study will also use process improvement methods developed by the center to help service providers operate more efficiently and effectively. Thousands of health care providers in communities nationwide have already adopted these practices to improve care for patients and families.

Three Wisconsin counties will help develop and test the technology over five years.

“Our goal is to eventually spread what we learn to the rest of the state and the nation,” says Gustafson.

“Wisconsin values the ambitions of older people to live independently into advanced old age,” says Donna McDowell, director of the Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources in the Department of Health Services. “The many benefits of the Active Aging Research Center will help our communities become better places to grow old.”