As a large proportion of the U.S. population ages, more adults will risk loss of independence and institutionalization. "Aging in place" environments that facilitate preservation of functional independence are increasingly in demand, and the benefits of a more active lifestyle in older adults are becoming clear. Habitat may play a significant role in enabling the older adult to maintain adequate levels of physical activity. While there is a growing body of literature supporting habitats that promote healthy lifestyles, few studies examine their effect on aging in place and health in older adults. In addition, objective physical activity monitoring has been sparse, often lacks information on habitat, and has not provided meaningful feedback to older adults to positively modify behavior. The proposed NIA career development award will include a research training plan that will provide mentorship and training pertaining to 1) translation and applied use of technology to measure physical activity and the built environment of older adults, 2) development and provision of easy to understand behavior feedback through the use of mobile technology, 3) development of advanced analytical skills in spatial analysis and multilevel modeling, and 4) ethical conduct of human research, with a focus on data security with mobile technology. This training plan will set the stage for a multi-phase study that will use novel technologies. Specifically, the proposed research will, for 100 subjects, 1) objectively measure characteristics of the built environment using geographic information systems and compare these to subjective reports of the environment and its influence on behavior;2) adapt a mobile computing device to objectively measure daily physical activity and location of physical activity in a sample of older adults;3) model habitat with physical activity, identifying any association between more walkable neighborhoods and increased levels of activity;4) conduct a pilot intervention study (n=40) that will evaluate the feasibility and potential effectiveness of using technology to increase physical activity among older adults by providing easy to understand feedback on activity and physical location. Dr. Berke will take advantage of the latest mobile computing devices to objectively measure habitat and activity, and explore ways to provide real-time feedback to seniors to positively affect behavior. A multidisciplinary team of health researchers, computer scientists, and urban planners will collaborate during the award period. With support from this 5-year career development award, Dr. Berke will acquire the skills and knowledge to become a leading independent investigator in the field of habitat, physical activity, and behavior change in older adults.
As baby boomers reach older age, there is an urgent priority to maintain an active lifestyle to support "aging in place." Innovative applications of technology have the potential to identify independent, safe habitats for seniors, to improve the accuracy of relevant measures, and to increase physical activity to positively affect health. The proposed project is consistent with NIA priorities in the Behavioral and Social Research Program's translational research agenda to translate new technologies for use in public health practice.
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