Interdisciplinary Research on Aging at Scranton Has Far-reaching Benefits

Apr 18, 2011

Interdisciplinary research among University of Scranton faculty and students from the Departments of Physics, Psychology, Mathematics, Computer Sciences and Occupational Therapy is creating a ripple effect among health care, social, business and government organizations. But its primary goal is to benefit America’s booming elderly population.

“Our research stems from three basic premises: preventing a catastrophic medical event is better and more cost effective than treating one; the older we get, the more we adhere to our patterns of behavior; and elderly people who live at home are healthier, more engaged and more independent,” said Herb Hauser, Ph.D., a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at The University of Scranton.

“Our mission was to design a support system that incorporates all three elements and provides security to both the elders and their caretakers, who are often family members,” said Dr. Hauser. “What if we could design electronic devices that could detect changes in an elder’s pattern of eating, drinking, sleep and locomotion – behavioral ‘thermometers’ that would not intrude on his or her privacy and not require active participation? That information could be transmitted to a family member or nurse practitioner, who could determine the cause of the change in pattern and take appropriate steps – rather than deal, soon afterwards, with a catastrophic medical event like a heart attack or stroke, diabetic shock, dementia, a broken hip or even suicide.”

Dr. Hauser’s question inspired an interdisciplinary team representing faculty and students in physics, psychology, mathematics, computer sciences and occupational therapy at Scranton to begin to look for answers. They are approaching the question in stages, with the technology ready for eating and drinking behaviors, sleep in the theory validation mode, and locomotion in the early stages of development. Examples of the technology include: refrigerator door monitors, temperature sensors on sink faucets, motion- and body weight-sensing mattress covers, and shoe inserts that monitor gait stability. The team is also looking into the feasibility of developing a toothbrush sensor that can detect changes in brushing patterns. Dr. Hauser and his research colleagues predict that homes and appliances will include such sensors.

“Our undergraduate student are actively participating and contributing to this research, which will benefit the well-being of a vulnerable segment of society,” said Dr. Hauser.

In addition, the interdisciplinary research has led The University of Scranton to host a first-of-its-kind Conference on Opportunities in Aging Research on Thursday, April 28, which attracted state and federal legislators, University faculty members, and local health care administrators and practitioners. The objective of the conference is to enable these stakeholders to share experiences and present opportunities for collaborative research.

The conference and the research reflect a striking demographic trend, which, without intervention, would strain shrinking health care budgets and family, Dr. Hauser explained. He expects the research to not only our nation’s senior citizens, but also the economy.

For additional information about research or conference, contact Dr. Hauser at 941-6353 or

Back to Top