Nursing Prof Inspired by Elderly Aunt Has Patented
Device to Get Senior Citizens Moving
Working with engineers at U. of Rhode Island she
has patented the Activity Analyzer
(From left to right):
Ying Sun, director of URIs biomedical engineering
program, Kyle Rafferty, URI biomedical engineering student, and Patricia
Burbank, nursing professor, test the Activity Analyzer in the beginning
stages. Photo by Michael Salerno
March 7, 2011 Virtually all senior citizens know
they need exercise - they need to at least move around. Most, however,
seem to have a problem getting motivated. There may be hope, however,
coming from the efforts of a nursing professor inspired by her
97-year-old aunt who lives on her own.
"She loves hearing from her family and personal
messages really resonate with her. How much better would it be to
develop a device that could send a loving message and a suggestion to
exercise?" said Patricia Burbank, professor of nursing at the University
of Rhode Island, who is concerned about her aunt's decreased activity
She brought the idea to Dayle Joseph, dean of URI's
College of Nursing, who suggested Burbank get in touch with Ying Sun,
director of URI's biomedical engineering program. Sun and Kyle Rafferty,
a senior from Amherst, N.H., who is double majoring in biomedical
engineering and electrical engineering, have been working to transform
Burbank's ideas into a tangible product.
In November, the device was patented through URI's
Office of Research and Development.
Working with Sun during the summer in the initial
stages of the project, Rafferty is now involved as part of an
independent study. Using a breadboard, a construction base for
electrical circuits, Rafferty has been responsible for getting the
components of what is being called, the Activity Analyzer fully
"It is a unique product because instead of counting
steps like a pedometer or measuring distance walked, it uses an
accelerometer, a three-axis motion detector, to analyze activity in
three dimensions. It also has a recording device and a clock so you can
record messages to go off at a particular time or messages to go off
after periods of inactivity," Burbank said.
The Activity Analyzer in the circuit design phase using a breadboard, a
construction base for electric circuits. Photo by Michael Salerno
"I have been working to enable the processor to
regulate time and the audio playback as well as program several messages
to go off during different times during the day," Rafferty said. "It is
my goal to have a working prototype, or close to it, by May."
Rather than a long guided workout, the audio
messages would be intended for short prompts and reminders. Messages
would be customized for each user's mobility issue and lifestyles. The
messages would be recorded by loved ones or primary care physicians.
At the end of each day, the device scores the
individuals based on their activity levels, which can be tracked using a
Although the main application of the device is to
increase activity levels in older adults, it also has numerous other
helpful functions. Alicia Curtin, URI associate nursing professor, is
working to use the device to help individuals with mild to moderate
"Family members or care providers can record
step-by-step instructions to prepare meals and other daily activities,"
said Burbank of North Kingstown. "This would increase independence and
allow individuals to live on their own when they otherwise couldn't."
Other important uses for the device would be to
remind individuals to take medication and for people of all ages to
increase their daily levels of low-impact activity, especially those in
sedentary work place such as offices.
"The device will also help with fall prevention by
working on balance and quadriceps strengthening exercises," said
Burbank. "Simple exercises, such as leg lifts and standing on one leg
with support as needed, can help reduce the risk of falling."
Burbank and Sun are currently reworking a proposal
to be submitted for grant funding that would allow the team to construct
six Activity Analyzers and conduct a research study. The study would
involve testing the device with a sample of 18 older adults to measure
activity levels and collect feedback in order to improve the product.
Overall, the devices will help to improve the
lifestyles of older adults.
"Sedentary older adults, as a group, benefit the
most from even the smallest amount of exercise. When you are stationary,
your blood doesn't circulate as well, your lungs don't work as well and
it has an impact on your mental health. Exercise has cardiovascular,
respiratory, digestive, neurological and skeletal muscular system
benefits among many others," said Burbank. "By getting individuals
moving just a little, they will hopefully move toward a more structured,
regular exercise routine."
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