Wisconsin: Web site aims to help people meet challenges of aging

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Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have launched a free website for older adults living anywhere in the state. It offers practical information and tools for independent, active living, as well as emotional support to combat loneliness.

Representatives from the university's Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies interviewed older adults, family members, caregivers, aging and healthcare professionals and community groups from around the state and found that older people are most likely to leave their homes for five reasons: falls, driving safety, medication management, lack of caregiver support, and feeling isolated or lonely. The website, Elder Tree, was designed with many of those challenges in mind.

The site connects seniors with each other, with family and friends and with community resources. It serves as a "one stop shop" for information about local resources and events, and it offers tools for users to track their personal health and wellness.

While working to spread the word and expand use of the website throughout the state, center members are studying Elder Tree users to learn which parts older adults find most helpful. The study is "an exciting opportunity for state and local governments to work together with the university to achieve this goal," says David Gustafson, Ph.D., an emeritus research professor of industrial and systems engineering who directs CHESS. The website is based on his work.

The project is funded through a grant from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. CHESS is collaborating with the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging and campus experts from the UW-Madison Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Mass Communication Research Center in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Geriatricians, specialists from Wisconsin's state Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources and community advocates from around the state also are participating.

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