The Administration on Aging estimates that by 2030, the number of seniors — those 65 and older — will account for 19 percent of the overall U.S. population, up from 12.9 percent in 2009.
Cognizant of their growing presence, Mayo Clinic is looking for innovative ways to empower seniors and address their healthcare needs through the Healthy Aging and Independent Living (HAIL) Lab at the Rochester, Minnesota campus.
The HAIL Lab is a novel research lab that mimics the everyday home environment of seniors while it taps into the 400 seniors (55 and older) who live at the Charter House continuing care retirement community. The goal is to observe seniors interact with different technologies and services “in the home” and encourage aging in place such that seniors can live their life at home without having to transition to an assisted care center.
“It’s not often Mayo’s top priority to look at user needs and user experiences,” said Nathan LeBrasseur, co-director of the lab.
It is an initiative of the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, Charter House and the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging. The HAIL Lab researchers aim to publish their findings. The lab is funded by Mayo and a consortium of three corporate partners — Best Buy, General Mills and the Good Samaritan Society. The corporate presence is perhaps not surprising given how closely spending habits of seniors, excluding healthcare expenses, track those of the average household.
The 4,300-square-foot space opened in March inside Charter House located right next to other Mayo facilities. The lab has two apartment-like spaces that are equipped with cameras to allow Mayo researchers and others involved in the HAIL Lab initiative to observe seniors’ activities. There is also a conference room with a one-way mirror to enable focus groups on a variety of topics. Another space fitted with a flat screen and Wii and Xbox gaming capabilities will be used by an international fellow who will study exer-gaming and its effects on healthy aging.
The lab has three specific objectives, explained LeBrasseur:
- The Living Environment. What kind of technologies can be introduced to bring about safety and independent living among seniors.
- Transition. What is needed to help the transition from hospital to home after a hospital procedure or admission and what needs to be done to minimize hospital readmission.
- Caregiver Support and Education: What kind of resources do caregivers need — spouse or other family member — to be able to take care of a sick senior.
Providing the correct type of support and resources to the “staggering” number of unpaid caregivers is especially important at the HAIL Lab, LeBrasseur said.
“There are only fragmented resources out there for them,” he said.
But the HAIL Lab is looking to learn as much as it is looking to solve problems. Preconceived notions about aging already seem to have been challenged through insight gained from focus groups.
“When we started, we thought of transitions as the move from the hospital to the home, but there are multiple cases of transitions,” Naomi Wyochick, the HAIL Lab administrative director, said. “Passing of a spouse after 30 years or moving to an assisted living facility. So we are beginning to peel back layers.”
Residents who choose to participate in the research can also take advantage of a soon-to-launch lending library. Wyochick and LeBrasseur said that the library will contain commercially available products that seniors can check out and try at home. One product is a communications box with a screen that can allow easy video calling.
“We think Skype is easy, but for a senior, logging in, checking whether microphone and speakers work may be too much,” LeBrasseur said. “With this box they can simply press a button to call their son” who has a similar device at home.