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Nursing Research Matters

 

Finding Solutions for Older Adults and their Families through Technology

George Demiris’ research focuses on the use of informatics tools to support older adults and their families, in various settings including home care and hospice.  He explains that his research interests have always aligned with nursing science and that most of his collaborators are nurses. Dr. Demiris earned a PhD in Health Informatics from the University of Minnesota in 2000.  He came to the UW School of Nursing (SoN) in 2006 and is Professor in the department of Biobehavioral Nursing & Health Systems.  He also holds a joint appointment in Biomedical and Health Informatics (BHI), UW School of Medicine (SoM).  Demiris was attracted to the SoN because faculty have always embraced innovation, promoted interdisciplinary collaborations, have a formal focal area in informatics, and are at the forefront of nursing science.   

Dr. Demiris has long been interested in ways to improve the quality of life for older adults.  He stresses that this is especially important now because of the shortage of healthcare workers and the impact the aging population of baby boomers will have on the healthcare system.  Demiris focuses on addressing the challenges of aging and chronic illness by providing useful tools.  He states that he investigates systems and tools that meet real needs of older adults rather than focusing on a particular piece of hardware or software package; what he describes as a “technology agnostic approach”. 

He says that older adults today want access to and control of their health care information and has seen a shift from a paternalistic model to a model where older adults are actively engaged in decision making.  People are interested in managing their health care, what their options are, and what their health record looks like. 

Demiris believes in engaging older adults in order to find out where they need the most help.  This ranges from caregiver support, fall prevention, to decreasing social isolation.  The design of the system is then tailored to their specific needs.  With technology advances in home monitoring there are ethical and privacy questions that need to be addressed such as “how much monitoring is needed?” and “who decides?”  Family members and facilities are calling for monitoring every aspect of older adults’ daily activities.  Demiris has discovered that older adults want the least amount of monitoring, while family members often want more.  Older adults also worry about technology decreasing face-to-face contact with both family members and healthcare providers.  Dr. Demiris wants to use technology to enhance face-to-face care – not to replace it. 

Hospice care related to informal care givers is another important aspect of Demiris’ research and he currently has a National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) funded grant “A Problem Solving Intervention for Hospice Caregivers”.  Demiris has seen how providing caregivers an opportunity to brainstorm and prioritize their challenges has had a positive impact on their health and quality of life. 

Giving support to caregivers is crucial because they carry a huge aspect of the healthcare burden.  They are often assigned complex tasks such as healthcare decision making, administering pain meds, and are often tasked with providing care 24 hours a day.  He emphasizes the need to find ways to support caregivers including increasing their level of confidence, improving their own health, and by reducing anxiety. 

Dr. Demiris also recently received funding from NINR for an Institutional Training Grant (T32), “Aging and Informatics Training Program”.  The goal of the T32 is to create a training program for pre and post doctoral fellows that integrates informatics into aging educational and research training.  Nursing scientists are increasingly being called on to process big data and to use algorithms and monitoring tools.  The T32 provides the training gerontology researchers need to more effectively use these technologies.  The T32 includes an interdisciplinary team of UW mentors from Nursing, BHI, the Information-School, Computer Science and Engineering, and Social Work. 

For more information about the T32, please visit: http://nursing.uw.edu/biobehavioral-nursing-health-systems/doctoral-training.

In addition, Demiris is director of Clinical Informatics in Patient-Centered Technology (CIPCT).  CIPCT is an online Master of Science (MS) degree program offered through the UW SoN and SoM.  Funded originally by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), “The program provides graduate-level training to health professionals, teaching them to understand, implement, manage, and evaluate the use of informatics applications in advanced patient care.”  Demiris notes that CIPCT is designed for clinicians involved in higher level informatics work.  T32 trainees are also integrated into the CIPCT program.  T32 fellows are asked to attend an Aging and Informatics Seminar and are required to take selected coursework from the CIPCT curriculum. 

Please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNmTLF2ZuC4 for more information about CIPCT.

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