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Pilot program exploring technology for older adults
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In recent years, much attention has been focused on ways to help senior citizens remain in their own homes rather than having them feel compelled to reside in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Many senior citizens wish to remain at home, but some need assistance with regards to transportation, home health services, and other areas of concern, such as home safety.

Currently, Richland County is in a pilot project that brings together experts from the following institutions and organizations: the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies; the Radio Frequency ID Laboratory; The Cognitive Engineering Laboratory; and the Mass Communication Research Center. Additionally, geriatricians and specialists from Wisconsin’s Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources and community advocates from around the state will also participate in the collaborative effort. These include representatives from the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Southwest Wisconsin-North, which serves Crawford, Juneau, Richland and Sauk counties, the ADRC of Waukesha County, and the Milwaukee County Department on Aging.

The partnership is called the Active Aging Resource Center (AARC) and is funded by a federal grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The Center will work towards solving problems that have led to a loss of independence for senior citizens, including serious falls, home care issues, managing chronic diseases, and declining driving skills.

Locally, a strategy team was formed to enlist the services of volunteers who brought along conversation packets for visits to area senior citizens and others, which helped gather responses to such question as: what activities do they enjoy; what are their skills; and any concerns they may have about aging.

The strategy team is made up of employees of the Richland County Health and Human Services department, as well as civic-minded individuals from the community, as follows: Becky Dahl, Linda Simons, Marilyn Rinehart, Steve Kohlstedt, Walter Gust, Mary Fowler, Bonnie Tydrich, and Active Aging Research Center study coordinator Brett Iverson.

Rinehart states, “I believe that Richland County has a wonderful opportunity with this project to provide insight on what it is like for seniors to live independently in a rural area. We can help shape a better future for our older adults and be a model for other rural communities in the state and in the nation.”

Now, work has begun on compiling the data gathered during the visits to senior citizens and other area residents and the idea is to find community assets and develop technology based on the input and experiences provided during the conversations. Being offered is an online support system called CHESS (the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System), which will be supplemented by the new E-CHESS. It is intended that both will be made available to elders, their caregivers and families. In clinical trials, the systems have been shown to improve health behavior, quality of life, and advanced cancer survival. Plans are for E-CHESS to include such innovations as GPS and radio-frequency identification, and for the system to be tailored to users’ needs, including mobile, tablet, laptop, desktop, and web-enabled TV devices. Elements of the system will make driving easier and safer, monitor home health services, encourage elders to participate in a fall prevention program, and help them communicate with family members and healthcare providers.

Iverson said, “E-CHESS will put everything online as a one-stop shop. We’re hoping that technological advances and infrastructure will complement our aims.”

UW-Madison professor of industrial engineering David H. Gustafson is directing the project. He states, “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.”

More information can be found on the project’s website at or call Brett Iverson at 608-649-5953.