First ‘Caregiver Hack’ Shines High-Tech Light on Caring for Elderly Loved Ones

Seven teams of students. Dozens of caregivers. A single mission: to develop an app for those caring for elderly loved ones to ease the burden, isolation, grief, guilt and fatigue of the job that never ends.

Four students from the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing and two from its Darden School of Business will team up this weekend in Richmond to participate in the first “Caring for the Caregiver Hack,” an interdisciplinary rally of Virginia students focused on creating a novel technology, idea, product or intervention to help the nation’s 44 million caregivers of loved ones over age 50.

Students from seven colleges and universities – including U.Va., the College of William & Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Lynchburg College, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech – will first listen to stories from caregivers before sequestering themselves with their teams for a day and night to develop a high-tech intervention and present it, the following morning, to a panel of judges. The winning team takes home the $5,000 first prize; a runner-up team shares $1,000.

The U.Va. team includes nursing students Julia Truelove, Carolyn Wellford, Austin Payne and Sylvanus Mensah and Darden students Edward McDonnell and Safina Zhou. Alternates include Curry School of Education student Lindsey McLean and Chunyao Xu from the School of Architecture. The U.Va. team’s mentor is Patricia Leonard Higgins, a clinical instructor for the Nursing School, a geriatric nurse at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother-in-law, who’s suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past 20 years.

For Higgins, caregiving is close to her personal and professional core. “We are lagging far behind in supporting this nation’s caregivers, who suffer from a real lack of resources and support,” she said. “So the whole idea here is to look at the issues caregivers face with a wide-angle lens, and come up with a concept that’s really present, and as close to a finished product as possible. It’s a marvelous opportunity all around.”

Some students involved have firsthand interest in gerontology and caregiver issues, like Wellford, a psychiatric nurse at the U.Va. Medical Center and an RN-to-BSN student in the School of Nursing, while others do not.

“It’s a common situation for many people,” McDonnell said, “and while I don’t have personal experience caring for an elderly loved one, I look forward to coming up with a new way to improve quality of life for caregivers. I expect it to be an eye-opening experience.”

“Caretakers are usually the females in the family – the wives, daughters and daughters-in-law,” Wellford said, “and their lives tend to already be stressed with careers and families. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s often requires more than 20 hours a week, and the mental and physical health of the caretaker is often overlooked. We need to change this.”

Student teams will gather at Troutman-Sanders law firm early Saturday, hearing first from aging and caregiving expert Dr. Richard W. Lindsay of the Lindsay Institute for Innovations in Caregiving, co-sponsor of the hack, along with Senior Navigator, an online site offering community programs and resources for senior citizens and caregivers. Following presentations from a half-dozen Virginia caregivers, students will retreat with their teams into separate conference rooms at the firm before returning to their hotel rooms to finalize their presentations of their caregiver app/intervention. The following morning, each group will present their app in 15 minutes to a panel of judges.

The teams will retain rights to all technologies developed during the competition, and entrepreneurial consultants will be available for those interested in further developing their idea or product.

Media Contact

Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing