– A recent $400,000 contract energizes the drive of two Florida Tech professors to develop information and communication technology (ICT) that promote
quality of life for caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Dr. Annie Becker, director of the Florida Tech National Center for Small Business
Information, received the contract from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
The project, called Buddy Computer Coordinated Healthcare System (or, Buddy for short), supports quality of life and aging-in-place initiatives. Buddy
takes advantage of information and communication technology in linking caregivers to a virtual support network of family and friends. PocketPCs are used by
caregivers to obtain information about healthcare, be reminded of daily events and activities, and to record family information in a journal. Family,
friends and healthcare personnel stay connected through the Web by a “buddy blog” that provides controlled access to information gathered by the PocketPC.
Related to this award, Becker and Dr. Frank Webbe, Florida Tech professor of psychology, received $200,000 from the Alzheimer’s Association (in partnership
with Intel Corporation and Agilent Technologies) to use ICT for caregivers to stay socially active through virtual connections with support networks of
other caregivers, family and friends. The PocketPC would be used for text messaging, e-mail and for playing virtual games with other caregivers and family
members. Family, friends and other caregivers have an opportunity to stay virtually connected through a Web interface.
In both projects, ICT could bridge the time and space barriers, which often separate loved ones. The pair, with the help of student researchers, will
combine their expertise in psychology and information systems/computer science in the project’s development.
Becker brings the technology skills to the interface appearance and system usability. She will also supervise the creation of the software that will
control the device. Becker will lead a team of computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering student researchers as well as staff and
community volunteers. Together, they will develop the PocketPC and Web system components and conduct usability studies of their use by older adults.
“We believe this to be a significant step forward in the use of information and communication technologies for promoting aging with dignity through “stay
at home” initiatives,” said Becker.
Webbe will provide knowledge of the disease and of caregiver and patient issues as well as the experimental design and analysis of outcomes. He will lead a
team of psychology student researchers, a social worker and community volunteers. The team will recruit and train participants and validate the use and
acceptance of the technology.