Students tackle senior health issues through AMITA challenge

Teams of college students used Arlington International Racecourse as an incubator for ideas over the weekend, spurning sleep to devise ways technology can help older adults with the aging process.

The students arrived Saturday morning and embarked on the first AMITA Health Design Challenge, a whirlwind of activities that included workshops and mentoring sessions aimed at generating ideas to improve seniors' health.

Participant kept fresh during the marathon brainstorming sessions with activities such as yoga and Zumba, along with a steady dose of healthy snacks.

The event, co-sponsored by the Daily Herald Media Group, culminated Sunday afternoon, with participating teams pitching their ideas to a panel of judges for a $2,000 top prize.

Twelve teams from 10 schools participated, with four teams surviving the initial cut. Judges, including Arlington Heights Mayor Thomas Hayes, then selected as the winner one of two teams from the School of the Art Institute.

Their concept was called the Kindred, a standard alarm clock connected to Wi-Fi that would enable a user to communicate with family members or anyone else information about their well-being — using a 1-10 scale — remotely through an app.

“Why are we looking at an alarm clock as our model? It seems really basic. That's the real reason we're looking at it,” said student Paige Landesberg of New York. “It's such a universal model. It's something that, if you gave it to an older person, wouldn't be an intimidating piece of technology to put on their bedside.”

Second place, which came with a $1,500 prize, was taken by the other team from the School of the Art Institute. They submitted the concept for AMITAMATE, a database for older adults that enables them to communicate with their doctors, while also allowing different doctors treating the same patient to talk to each other.

Medical records could be uploaded to the “AMITA cloud” for viewing. In addition, it would have a human component, promoting an intergenerational living situation, with college students living for free with the older adults and helping them manage the database.

A team from Harper College wound up in a tie for the $1,000 third-place prize with a team of students from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The Harper team's concept was for the AMITA Reach Initiative, which connects older individuals with others facing similar health issues and engages them in activities such as cooking classes. Local community organizations, such as park districts, could be involved as partners.

Patrick Nora of Elk Grove Village, who is studying nursing at Harper, said the effort would involve the assistance of volunteer doctors and nurses.

“I can say firsthand, you won't have a problem finding a nurse, as I graduate this December and can volunteer,” he added.

The UIC team devised an app that provides tips and resources about nutrition, fitness and even finances. The app, AgeRight, is mainly aimed at the “sandwich generation,” the group between 40 and 60.

Gene Volchenko, a UIC student from Buffalo Grove, said he mainly enjoyed the social aspect of the exercise.

“We're all engineering majors, so we actually like to do this,” he said. “We like to investigate and solve puzzles.”

One hundred thirty Daily Herald readers also voted for their fan favorite, with prizes that included movie passes, a lava lamp and a skybox at the Allstate Arena for a Chicago Wolves game. Their choice was the AMITAMATE system.

Jeff Oberlin, director of innovation for co-sponsor AMITA Health, said the students' ideas won't vanish now that the weekend challenge is over.

“Ideally, I would like to take one of the finalists of these final four teams and try to pilot that idea for our hospital system,” he said.

  Harper College nursing student Patrick Nora presents on behalf of his team Sunday at the AMITA Health Design Challenge in Arlington Heights. Their proposal earned a tie for third place. Steve Zalusky/
  The Kindred - an alarm clock that connects to an app - proved a winning concept for one of two teams from the School of the Art Institute at Sunday's AMITA Health Design Challenge in Arlington Heights. Steve Zalusky/
  School of the Art Institute student Paige Landesberg demonstrates the Kindred at the AMITA Health Design Challenge on Sunday in Arlington Heights. Steve Zalusky/
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