It's all about the seniors.
In the next 20 years, the number of Americans age 65 or older is expected to top 71 million, more than double what the senior population was in 2000. Finding ways to help them stay healthy as they age is a growing challenge.
Led by the University of South Carolina, SeniorSMART involves a cross-disciplinary team of individuals passionately working on groundbreaking research, products and services to improve the lives of older adults and preserve their independence.
A state-designated Center of Economic Excellence, SeniorSMART focuses on three key areas: SMARTHome, SMARTWheels and SMARTBrain.
SMARTHome connects researchers in social work, medicine and engineering with the goal of enabling older adults to stay in their own homes longer through the use of new technologies and community services.
SMARTBrain promotes brain health through research and activities while working to prevent cognitive decline and the effects of brain diseases, including Alzheimer's and stroke.
SMARTWheels is designed to help seniors maintain the ability to drive safely and uses state-of-the-art driving simulator technology and interventions to improve transportation and physical mobility for older adults.
“When I first heard of SeniorSMART, I was overwhelmed because my mother had recently died, and I thought had we had this available then, she could have done what she wanted to and stayed in her own home instead of living for about 10 years in a nursing home,” says Charlton Hall, a SeniorSMART participant and a benefactor of the program’s work.
When explaining why she stays active and is involved in SeniorSMART’s programs, 93-year-old Helen Coplan says, “I have five children and all of them want me to come live with them. I refuse. I’ve still got this little adventuresome spirit in me!”
Tailored rehabilitation and technologies make a difference
Innovative rehabilitation programs and new technologies created by SeniorSMART faculty at USC are helping individuals who have suffered a stroke gain mobility and independence, and also producing new knowledge about how to detect when a fall may take place.
"There’s a sensor that’s been developed that’s only been used in bridge technologies, and we’re adapting it for the detection of falls. Then, it's going to move further upstream to predict and prevent falls.”
Dr. Sue Levkoff, SeniorSMART endowed chair, USC College of Social Work
“Before I went through the USC program, I was primarily using the wheelchair to get around,” says Dr. Kenneth White, who – while teaching at South Carolina State University -- had a right hemisphere stroke that paralyzed the entire left side of his body.
“The rehab clinic was on the third floor and they helped me from the first day to walk up those three floors. So that was the first amazing thing. I didn’t think I could do that.”
“Everything that he did, whether it was bathing, dressing, eating, getting out of a chair, I always had to help him do so because he wasn’t able to do it himself. But once he went to the program, it really allowed him a mobility he didn’t have before,” explains Kenneth’s spouse, Margaret White.
Multi-disciplinary approach accelerates success
According to Dr. Sue Levkoff, who was named the first Senior SMART endowed chair in 2010, experts from different fields working together hold much promise for advancements that help older adults.
“For example, there’s a sensor that’s been developed that’s only been used in bridge technologies, and we’re adapting it for the detection of falls. Then, it’s going to move further upstream to the prediction of falls to prevent falls,” says Levkoff, the endowed chair of Community and Social Support in USC’s College of Social Work.
Levkoff, among the world’s leading experts on geriatrics and aging, came to USC from Harvard University and focuses on developing new technologies and social support systems that help older adults stay independent in their homes.
“I decided to bring my research and my (health care technology) company here because of the promise of the University of South Carolina. It’s an institution that has as its motivation and core values to bring together a group of people who will help solve the problems of an aging population,” adds Levkoff.
Dr. Paul Eleazer, director of the SeniorSMART steering committee who also helped create SeniorSMART’s guiding vision, sums up the simple goal.
“My hopes for SeniorSMART are that it will be the internationally known center for adult independence," says Eleazer. “This is going to be the place where we have the scientists, the researchers, the physicians, and all the other personnel who develop and bring the products and services to market that will really help older people stay independent.
“That’s really my dream."