New Center Targets Nursing Research, Self-Care Technologies

November 20, 2014

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has received a five-​​year, $1.5 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health to estab­lish a new center designed to advance nursing sci­en­tists’ research and effec­tive tech­nology inter­ven­tions for improving self-​​care and self-​​management for America’s older adults.

The grant, from the NIH’s National Insti­tute of Nursing Research, pro­vides the sup­port to launch the North­eastern Center for Tech­nology in Sup­port of Self Man­age­ment and Health, also known as NUCare, at the School of Nursing. The center is also closely aligned with the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence.

Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator for NUCare. Pro­fessor Holly Jimison, who holds joint appoint­ments in Bouvé and CCIS, is the co-​​principal inves­ti­gator. Both are nation­ally rec­og­nized experts in geri­atrics. Jimison also directs the Northeastern-​​based Con­sor­tium on Tech­nology for Proac­tive Care, a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort by fac­ulty researchers and health clin­i­cians nation­wide to develop eco­nom­ical, technology-​​based solu­tions to health­care challenges.

“By 2020, one in five people in America will be over the age of 65, and the fastest growing seg­ment of this aging group are the people over 85,” says Fulmer. “We won’t have the capacity to pro­vide the care this pop­u­la­tion will need, so it’s crit­ical that we develop self-​​care tech­nology solu­tions for older adults and their care­givers that help max­i­mize their quality of life.”

NUCare will pro­mote nursing research in self-​​management, tech­nolo­gies for home mon­i­toring and coaching, and team-​​based care that involves family and care­givers. It will also serve as the infra­struc­ture to train nurse scientists—specifically Bouvé nursing fac­ulty and doc­toral students—in state-​​of-​​the-​​art mon­i­toring and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies to con­duct research on health­care inter­ven­tions that are scal­able and effec­tive. Exam­ples of these inter­ven­tions include com­puter games that mea­sure cog­ni­tion; unob­tru­sive body sen­sors that mea­sure sleep quality; and smart­phone apps that use coaching to encourage seniors to be more active in their daily lives.

Another point of emphasis for NUCare is the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams’ focus on cre­ating novel solu­tions to improve the quality of life and inde­pen­dence for older adults, with a spe­cific emphasis on pop­u­la­tions with health disparities.

North­eastern is uniquely posi­tioned to inno­vate in these areas, says Fulmer. Health is one of Northeastern’s pri­mary research themes, and the uni­ver­sity is excep­tion­ally well posi­tioned to con­duct use-​​inspired research across dis­ci­plines to address health and healthy aging.

Jimison noted that the center’s efforts also dove­tail with a national push toward devel­oping health ser­vices that are proac­tive and pre­ven­ta­tive. NUCare researchers will be able to pro­vide an evi­dence base to inform how best to imple­ment this new model of care.

NUCare will also fund North­eastern nurse sci­en­tists’ pilot projects and pro­vide men­toring and other ser­vices to these researchers on a range of topics. The North­eastern fac­ulty leading the first two pilot projects are Dr. Alice Bonner, who is exam­ining the impact of an inte­grated care model that engages patients and their fam­i­lies to improve out­comes when tran­si­tioning from the hos­pital to the home; and Dr. Betsy Howard, who is exam­ining the effect of an assess­ment and well­ness coaching system on low-​​income adults living in sub­si­dized housing in Boston.

“This presents an oppor­tu­nity for our nurse sci­en­tists to be leaders in this area,” says Fulmer, adding that seniors’ family mem­bers are an untapped resource to engage with these coaching, mon­i­toring, and other high-​​tech interventions.