Researcher Receives Two NIH Grants to Study Tablet-Based Intervention Programs for Older Adults

Sara J. Czaja, Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the Center on Aging at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has been awarded two five-year grants totaling $6.5 million by the National Institutes of Health to study tablet-based intervention programs for seniors.

Czaja’s first new NIH grant, “A non-pharmacological intervention for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and family caregivers,” will provide $3.26 million to develop and test the feasibility of a dyadic-based intervention program, delivered through state-of-the art tablet technology, that examines the relationship between the caregiver and recipient.

“A novel feature of the investigation is its focus on both the early-stage caregiver and the person with Alzheimer’s disease, and the integration of an augmented evidence-based intervention for the caregiver and cognitive/functional training for the care recipient,” said Czaja.

Czaja said 240 Hispanic, African American and White/Caucasian pairs of caregivers and recipients will be studied in the six-month intervention, which emphasizes issues in the early and later stages of caregiving.

Other members of the research team include David Loewenstein, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a member of the UM Center on Aging faculty, and Elizabeth Crocco, M.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Training Program.

Funded with a $3.28 million grant, the second study, “A Personalized Health Behavior System to Promote Well-Being in Older Adults,” will examine the usability and efficacy of a new tablet-based dynamic system for diverse older adults. In the study, the Fittle Senior System will provide personalized behavior-change programs for improved diet and increased physical activity, and online social interaction and support from small teams pursuing similar goals.

“Many older adults, especially the oldest old, minorities and those of lower socio-economic status, are particularly vulnerable to social isolation, poor diet, and decreased levels of physical activity, each of which influence morbidity and mortality,” Czaja said. “Mobile-based, tablet-based, and in-home technologies provide an excellent opportunity for interventions to change behaviors and provide social support for older adults at great economies of scale.”

Czaja noted that the Fittle Senior System builds on two technology-based systems developed by the investigative team — the computer-based PRISM system, designed for older populations to support social connectivity and well-being, and the Fittle+ mobile platform designed to support positive health behavior change through integrated online social support and personalized coaching based on artificial intelligence. This study will involve 180 older adults who live in community settings, and will be conducted in collaboration with the Palo Alto Research Corporation and Joseph Sharit, Ph.D., professor in the UM School of Engineering.

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