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National Institute on Aging Funds Project to Monitor Electric Powered Wheelchair Navigation by Elderly with Cognitive Impairments

Dr. William Kearns (CFS), Dr. James L. Fozard (SAS) and Dr. Victor Molinari (SAS) are among a team who has secured funding from the National Institute on Aging to create a monitoring system for electric powered wheelchair (EPW) operators with or at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cognitive impairments.

The team, which brings significant related research & development experience to the project, A Passive Safety Monitoring System for Electric Powered Wheelchairs Operators with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Cognitive Impairments, includes members from Innovative Design Labs (IDL), USF College of Behavioral and Community Sciences and the USF Center for Assistive Rehabilitation Robotics and Technology (CART). Dr. Kearns will be the lead on the USF subcontract.

“Many older adults have chronic health conditions that limit mobility and thus EPW use is essential for maintaining independence,” said Dr. Kearns. “However, when an older wheelchair user exhibits signs of cognitive decline related to developing dementia, caregivers must make hard subjective choices trading between safety and independent mobility. Currently there is no system that can monitor and quantify subtly diminishing driving abilities to aid in this decision.”

The team will track individuals using a device that is added to powered wheelchairs which syncs with a control system that monitors user inputs and driving commands. Changes in cognitive function will be monitored using an algorithm that estimates spatial disorientation and navigational errors in older adults (Fractal Dimension), pioneered by collaborators at USF.Findings can inform caregivers before an incident that intervention may be necessary and wheelchair use should be reviewed and possibly suspended. Conversely, it may allow many patients to continue wheelchair use by providing caregivers a consistent, in-community measure of a patient’s abilities reflecting their current cognitive state. For additional information, contact Dr. Kearns

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