Student and Faculty Hack Their Way to Grand Prize at Annual LeadingAge Hackfest

LeadingAge Hackfest 2014 attracted developers, designers, marketers, students, business experts and clinicians this year to Nashville, TN. Participants spent 24 hours learning about issues of the elderly population, and then tackling those issues using technology. Six teams were judged based on the originality, usability and feasibility of their idea. They had 24 hours to meet one another, brainstorm and develop a finished product of a software application, website, interactive online experience or device.

On the winning team was Milken Institute School of Public Health Master of Health Administration student Lauren Sims, and Robert E. Burke, PhD, a professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Leadership and the Gordon A. Friesen Professor of Health Care Administration at GW.  Both were on Team Excite which created and won the grand prize for their project the GaitMaster. The GaitMaster uses an XboX Kinect to identify gait issues in the elderly. Knowing that an older adult has a gait issue may then allow the individual and their doctor to adjust daily activities to avoid dangerous falls which can lead to hospital readmission. The CDC reports that one out of three older adults, those aged 65 or older, fall each year. Among this population falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.

This is Sims’s second year attending LeadingAge Hackfest. Last year, Sims and other public health students participated in Hackfest, and two of her classmates created projects that took home the first and second prize. Despite her excitement and nerves going into this year’s competition, her team’s positive dynamic led them to success, says Sims. “We just had fun with the idea,” describing how the spending long hours spent working through the night were surprising fun. “I was so surprised with how quickly our team adapted to each other. Honestly, I think the laughing together part was really what made everything successful.”

Teams were judged on the originality, usability and feasibility of their idea. Team Excite recognized the need for a better assessment tool to measure a person's gait. From there GaitMaster was born. “Anyone interested in technology and seniors should participate," Sims says. "It is a great experience and I think every person learns something new about themselves, others, or the population that we are trying to help.” Participating in Hackfest was a great fit for Sims, as she is particularly interested in the elderly population. She will be sitting for the nursing home licensure exam in July 2015 and hopes to be working as an administrator in a nursing home after graduation.

Team Excite won prize money totaling $5,000 along with an engraved trophy. The team comprised Lauren Sims, second year MHA student; Darshan Karnawat and Tapan Kilnani, two electrical engineering graduates at Penn State; Greg Patarini, a teacher of computer programming; and Philip Taffet, an undergraduate computer science student at Rice University. Milken Institute SPH Professor Robert Burke was the team coach and its Council of Elders advisers were Francis and Linda Turmo.