William Kearns, PhD
Dr. Kearns, Research Associate Professor, Retired Meritoriously from the Department of Child and Family Studies. Dr. William Kearns is a mental health services researcher and inventor who creates solutions for persons faced with the difficult problem of caring for elderly persons with mild to moderate dementia. His research interests lie within the area known as Gerontechnology, specifically in the development and use of telesurveillance and cognitive prosthetics, to support the physical, social, and community health and well-being needs of adults to facilitate ageing-in-place. His current research focuses on the use of advanced technologies for the remediation of cognitive impairment related to dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
A measure of movement path variability (tortuosity) called fractal dimension (FD) derived from ultra-wideband RTLS-sensor data recorded on assisted living facility (ALF) residents has been linked to cognitive decline and may provide a means to link fall risk to cognitive decline. Using a commercially available ultra-wideband radio real-time location sensor network and fractal dimension analysis, Dr. Kearns was able to show that path tortuosity predicted falls in the coming week in assisted living facility residents. Fallers also had more variable stride-to-stride velocity and required more assistance with activities of daily living (ADL). This research contributed to his Human and Physical Asset Movement Pattern Analyzer(U.S. Patent no. 7978085-1).
The Pattern Analyzer is incorporated in a wrist-worn unit used in the Tampa Veterans Administration Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program Smart Home tracking system as a prompting device. Cognitive prosthetics, i.e., timely prompts and reminders to perform everyday tasks such as taking medications and keeping appointments, constitute the core of interventions used for treating persons with TBI and other cognitive impairments.
Dr. Kearns has applied his innovative technologies to determining whether path tortuosity is predictive of functional recovery in veterans with TBI. He has discovered that veterans with past TBI had greater path tortuosity and slower walking speed, more TBI symptoms, spatial orientation problems, and poorer executive function. In short, traumatic brain injury has persistent symptomatic effects and significantly affected ambulation and spatial orientation years after the originating event. The studies on TBI and path tortuosity have resulted in a second patent submission.
Dr. Kearns is an investigator on several grants, including a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study changes in movement variability and functional status in veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury receiving rehabilitation in the JAHVA Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Program, a grant from Ubisense, Inc. to assess the VA Smart Home’s assistive technology, and a National Science Foundation infrastructure grant to obtain a CAREN virtual reality system for collaborative research in assistive and rehabilitation technologies.
His work is receiving international acclaim. At the 2014 International Society for Gerontechnology annual meeting (ISG2014) in Taipei, Taiwan, a paper presented by Dr. Kearns and his colleagues Drs. James Fozard and Jan Jasiewicz received a Best Paper award for the conference. Dr. Kearns was recently appointed to the post of President of the North American Chapter of the International Society for Gerontechnology (ISG). As President, he also sits on the ISG Board of Directors. The ISG holds Standing Committee status in the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) and is represented within the 3289 non-governmental organizations with consultative status in the United Nations ECOSOC (ECOnomic and SOcial Council).