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New center targets nursing research, self-care technologies

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.”

Terry Fulmer

Terry Fulmer

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.

Holly Jimison

Holly Jimison

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.

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