Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe

Maureen Schmitter-

Neuropsychologist Collaborates on "Smart" Homes for Independent Living

The U.S. is a rapidly aging nation. By 2040 almost a quarter of the population will be 65 years of age or older, and for most individuals maintaining personal autonomy—to be able to live at home safely and successfully—will be a fundamental concern. For many it will present real challenges.

WSU researchers Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, professor of clinical neuropsychology, and Diane Cook, Huie-Rogers Chair and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, have joined forces on a project that has the potential to significantly enhance quality of life for older adults suffering from cognitive and physical limitations.

Schmitter-Edgecombe and Cook were awarded a grant of $790,906 this fall from Washington State's Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) for their project "Smart Home-based Health Platform for Functional Monitoring and Intervention." The LSDF was established in 2005 to support innovative research that promotes life sciences competitiveness, enhances economic vitality, and improves health and health care in the state of Washington.

A pilot project, funded through a College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Support for Major Extramural Grant Development award, laid some of the groundwork for the LSDF grant proposal and provided the opportunity to integrate Schmitter-Edgecombe's memory intervention research and her work investigating the relationship between memory deficits and capacity to perform complex activities of daily living with Cook's expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and smart environments.

The long-term goal of their combined research effort is to design, implement, and test assistive technologies that will allow individuals with limitations, resulting from conditions such as early-stage dementia or physical disability, to remain in their own homes and maintain a high quality of life.

Susan Dente Ross, CLA associate dean for research, said, "This research partnership is developing the tools needed by an aging population and training the scientists of tomorrow by demonstrating the type of cutting-edge insights that arise from truly interdisciplinary approaches to the serious health concerns of our day."

Schmitter-Edgecombe said, "My primary interest is in demonstrating that we can use smart environment technology not only to detect everyday functional limitations, but to facilitate interventions that will increase the ability of older adults to maintain independence in their homes."

A "smart" environment is a physical place fitted with sensors for collecting data, actuators for movement control, displays that alert, and computational elements, all seamlessly embedded in everyday objects and connected through a continuous network.

The pilot study took place on the Pullman campus in WSU's smart apartment, which is equipped with sensors and powerline controllers.

With a focus on everyday activities like hand washing, food preparation and consumption, telephone use, and medication use compliance, the goals of the pilot project were twofold. First was the design of algorithms, sequences of instructions that detail how a particular task is performed and from which a computer can learn a model for user activities. The second was to show that the information generated can be used to monitor the progress and completion of those activities by an individual.

map of sensor positions within apartment

The layout of sensors in the smart apartment. Sensors include motion sensors (M), temperature sensors (T), water sensors (W), burner sensors (B), phone sensors (P), and item sensors (I).

One of the next steps in the research process, for which Schmitter-Edgecombe and Cook received the LSDF grant, is the development of ways to create task-related reminders using smart technology and to facilitate intervention in situations caused by uncompleted activities that may prove to be hazardous.

Schmitter-Edgecombe earned her Ph.D. from the University of Memphis in 1994 and joined the psychology faculty at WSU that same year. She has built a strong research program in clinical neuropsychology, rehabilitation, and traumatic brain injury and is currently conducting studies with early-stage dementia patients and the evaluation of memory compensation techniques. She has received significant grants from the National Institute of Neurological and Stroke Disorders and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and her research has been widely published in national and international peer-reviewed journals.

Cook has published more than 90 papers and a book on smart environments. The current smart environment testbed at WSU builds upon her MavHome smart home project, one of the first large-scale physical environments to be completely automated with off-the-shelf sensors and controllers.

For more information or to become involved with the Smart Home project, call 509-335-4033 or visit
Dr. Schmitter-Edgecombe's Web page.

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