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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Revamped Tech Innovation Center At MSOE Aims To Help Seniors

Chuck Quirmbach
Direct Supply's Innovation and Technology Center is in the former German-English Academy building on the MSOE campus.

Less intrusive monitoring of seniors may be coming to more nursing homes. That's one of the technologies being refined at a newly remodeled building at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers paid a visit Tuesday, and says he expects more breakthroughs.

The Milwaukee company Direct Supply is a huge supplier of equipment and services to the senior living industry. The company has just updated its Innovation and Technology Center on the MSOE campus.

Evers and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett got a look at some of the center's work.  Clinical Director Liz Jensen explained to them that instead of putting more cameras in nursing home rooms, which raises privacy concerns, researchers are testing an imaging device that doesn't show as much detail.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Direct Supply's Liz Jensen discusses "Smart Room" technology for senior housing.

"That, as you can see, starts to change what we're seeing in a room, pixilates it a little bit in a way that we know this is a person, but we don't know specifically who the person is. We can also tell where a person is in a room, so if someone falls, we're able to look into a room and see," Jensen said.

She says Direct Supply is also testing another monitor that uses radar to provide a patient's heart and respiratory rate. Jensen says it may change care.

"Now I know as a nurse if somebody's in bed. I also know if they're sleeping and resting comfortably because I have more data. That means I may not have to go into the room to check on them, and that means they may be able to sleep without getting interrupted — and we all know what that means to get a good night's sleep," she said.

Jensen says patients or residents don't wear the radar devices. Instead, she says researchers are looking at where to put the monitors into a room, and how to do so in a way that's cost effective and connects to electronic health records.

"It's being able to predict what might happen, instead of responding reactively to it." - John Walz

MSOE President John Walz says some of the school's faculty and students work with the Direct Supply employees. He hopes increased technology through computer systems like artificial intelligence will prevent more problems.

"To prevent falls, do those types of things. It's being able to predict what might happen, instead of responding reactively to it," Walz told WUWM.

Evers, who worked in nursing homes during college at UW-Madison, told reporters that he sees another potential role for seniors and tech.

"Dealing with everyday tasks is really important, and making the technology available to seniors to accomplish those tasks without being burdened by the technology. That's the tricky part here," Evers said.

In other words, making sure the tech isn't too complex, heavy or burdensome for the seniors to use. Those may be key considerations, as more of the huge baby boomer generation moves into senior living.

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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