Tool developed by UW–Madison researchers will help seniors age in place

A research study that is co-led by UW–Madison’s Jung-hye Shin, Kevin Ponto, and Beth Fields focusing on the development of a novel home assessment tool to aid in modifying homes for people with disabilities has been awarded a grant from RRF Foundation for Aging.

From left: Fields, Ponto, and Shin

Shin, the principal investigator, and Ponto are associate professors with the School of Human Ecology’s Design Studies Department. Fields is an assistant professor of occupational therapy with the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology.

The project is titled, “Developing a novel augmented reality tool for home assessments.” An executive summary for the project explains that most private homes are not designed to accommodate people with disabilities, and therefore, a growing number of older adults are resorting to home modification to support their disabilities and allow them to age in place.

While ideally home modification requires a systematic home assessment by an occupational therapist or other trained professional, often a lack of knowledge or access to qualified professionals — particularly in rural areas — hinders this approach.

The research team will work to address these deficiencies by developing a novel augmented reality home assessment tool (ARHAT) that helps guide assessors through the steps needed to perform home evaluations either on-site or off.

Shin and Ponto, who have expertise in computer science and design, are taking the lead on developing the ARHAT, working closely with Ross Tredinnick at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery and other systems programmers. Fields will then help the team validate and refine the tool by gathering feedback from housing professionals, occupational therapy practitioners, and aging adults and their care partners.

The grant from the RRF Foundation for Aging (number 2021058) will help fund a graduate project assistant who will provide research support for the project.

“ARHAT will enable home assessments to be performed more effectively and more efficiently as well as asynchronously and remotely,” explained Fields. “This work is critical to support the increasing number of individuals that have a desire to safely and independently age in place.”