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Researchers at Virginia Tech look to enhance lifestyles for the elderly and their pets


BLACKSBURG, Va., March 16, 2006 – Developing new products and systems to enhance the lives of the elderly and their pets is the focus of a $40,000 competitive grant awarded by Procter & Gamble and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) to a Virginia Tech team led by Ed Dorsa, associate professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Affairs.

Dr. Marie Suthers-McCabe, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and director of the college’s Center for Animal Human Relationships (CENTAUR) is a co-investigator on the project, which also includes faculty from business, human factors engineering, and other disciplines.

The Virginia Tech team is looking at the development of a variety of customizable, interactive products and services that will enable the elderly to take better care of their pets and improve communications flow between the elderly, their families, and medical providers as part of a project entitled “PAWS: Pet Care Awareness System.”

Because of the 10-week project turn-around time, the PAWS system will remain largely conceptual at this time, according to Dorsa; however; the group has already developed several provocative ideas which will be presented on April 6, during a “Procter & Gamble Town Hall Meeting” in Cincinnati.

Using a “Magic Mirror” conceptual design, the team is considering the development of a “seamless, virtually intuitive” communications interface that can provide veterinarians, physicians, and family members with important information about the health and behavior of the animal owner and the pet.

“For example, designers have conceived the idea of a key-chain based point-of-purchase encoder that could signal a veterinarian that an elderly owner has mistakenly purchased the wrong animal chow for a senior pet that might be on a health-restricted diet,” said Dorsa.

Other ideas include the perfection of elevated systems that allow an elderly person to feed their animal without bending over, and systems that might enable the elderly to combine medications and meals in a singular package for their pets while traveling.

“Designers are also looking at the creation of incentive-based toys for senior pets that can deliver a treat following a prescribed interval of exercise and play,” Dorsa added.

The Virginia Tech proposal was scored as the highest among four U.S. universities that were also selected to compete in the program themed “Aging Consumers: Men, Women & Couples.”

Other universities selected for the competition include Arizona State University, The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states.