Toronto (March 20, 2010) - Toronto Rehab researchers will receive $4.6 M from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) to develop innovative assistive devices and advanced technologies to help people care for someone at home. Toronto Rehab engineers, computer scientists, designers and clinicians will collaborate with industry leaders to design, develop, and bring new products to market quickly and at a reasonable price to consumers.

After a hospital stay, more and more patients are opting to live and receive care at home. Some will be cared for by professional caregivers but many others will be cared for by informal caregivers - wives, husbands, other family members and friends. Both types of caregivers are faced with the enormous physical demands of caring for someone in a home setting.

"In-home caregivers experience an excessive burden managing the physically demanding tasks of providing care", says Geoff Fernie, Toronto Rehab's vice president of research. "This grant will allow our researchers to address an urgent need to help caregivers with the physically demanding tasks of lifting, moving, toileting, and dressing the people they care for, as well as monitoring their safety."

"Imagine, if you will, an elderly gentleman who is sent home after a stroke. His elderly wife is faced with the challenge of lifting him out of bed and onto the toilet, bathing him and helping him to dress. It is easy to see how the physical effort can be too great," explains Fernie.

The physical demands of caregiving are already recognized as major challenges in hospitals, where nursing staff are known to experience more injuries than any other occupational group.

"This problem pales in comparison to the situation in people's homes where untrained family members are working in difficult spaces with little or no equipment, and where professional caregivers are providing care without assistance," adds Fernie. "Many people who would like to be cared for at home cannot be because family and other caregivers become injured or disabled themselves and cannot continue to perform the demanding physical tasks of caregiving."

Statistics show that in Ontario almost a third of families have been providing constant care for someone for over two years. Almost half of family caregivers report a high level of physical and mental stress and 14 per cent experience physical discomfort or pain.

The grant from MRI's Ontario Research Fund -Research Excellence Program will fund the development of innovative products that will enable care to be provided more easily and more safely in the home. Products being developed include a lifting and moving device that reduces the stress required to insert a lift sling under a person who cannot walk and who needs to be carried to the washroom or positioned in a wheelchair, and an advanced artificial intelligence system that will monitor safety and increase independence by detecting when a person has fallen and calling for help.

These and other products will be technologically advanced, practical, easy to install without home modification, and affordable.

Initially, researchers will focus on developing four products. But as soon as Toronto Rehab's new state-of-the-art research facilities, iDAPT (Intelligent Design for Adaptation, Participation and Technology) are complete in early 2011, many more innovative technologies and assistive devices will be designed and developed. iDAPT's highly specialized research laboratories, design studios and rapid prototyping workshops will allow these products to be brought to market quickly and cost-effectively.

"The innovative new products will also provide a boost to an important emerging sector of our economy - the assistive devices industry, which includes many relatively young, small and medium-sized companies with high potential for growth," says Bruno Maruzzo, commercialization officer at Toronto Rehab. "The manufacturing of innovative technologies will not only create new opportunities for economic growth but will also generate a significant number of jobs."

The need for homecare products has grown significantly. The Canadian HomeCare Association says that homecare is becoming the fastest growing sector of the health care system in Canada.

"The demand for reliable and affordable homecare solutions will only increase as the population ages and the incidence of chronic disease rises. In Ontario, there is currently an increasing demand for hospital and long-term care beds and an increase in wait times for both," says Fernie.

It is Fernie's hope that this kind of research will not only address the challenges of providing care at home but will also take some of the pressure off of hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"About one-third to one-half of individuals assessed as 'high' need for long-term care placement in Toronto could be safely and cost-effectively supported at home," adds Fernie./p>

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