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The shifting demographics associated with an aging population require novel solutions to meet the health needs of the growing number of older adults in the US and around the world. Since caring for individuals in assisted living and long-term care facilities costs nearly twice what it costs to care for their non-institutionalized counterparts, technologies that support aging in place are seen as one way to address this pressing problem.

Among older adults, the groups at the highest risk for extensive care and services are individuals from rural areas, and underprivileged urban areas. Of these two sub-populations, rural individuals make up one fifth of the elderly population and are at highest-risk for requiring long-term care services and support. Similarly, urban-dwelling older adults in low-SES neighborhoods often experience higher rates of functional loss, and poorer overall health outcomes.

In addition to stressing the long-term care resources of Medicare, these high-need older adults often require support from informal caregivers. Informal caregivers provide service that would otherwise cost the Medicare system $375 billion dollars a year. The average caregiver is employed, has children, and sixty-six percent of all informal caregivers in the U.S. are women. These caregivers are often called the “sandwich generation” because, in addition to traditional family and work roles, they must also provide care to an older adult relative. Thus, there is a huge need to ease the burden on these caregivers so that they can continue to provide the care required to keep older family members out of assisted living.

This project will provide guidance to community members, service providers, and governmental agencies about how to wield technology to enable low-SES, urban- and rural-dwelling older adults to age in place, while simultaneously easing the burden on caregivers Outcomes include design guidelines to assist designers in adapting pioneering technologies developed in other contexts for use by this high-need population.

The broader impact of this project include outreach to underserved communities, training of undergraduate and graduate students, broad dissemination of research results beyond traditional disciplinary silos, and building strong connections between academia, private companies, and government agencies, all of whom share the goal of enhancing the quality of life for underserved older adults. Finally, the broader impact in terms of benefits to society is inherent in the research; the project seeks to discover innovative ways of providing more appealing, less invasive, less costly options for caregivers and private and public payers, while simultaneously serving the underserved.
Team: Ginger White, Kelly Caine, Kay Connelly
Support: National Science Foundation Grant (IIS-1117860)