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MU students play role in new senior housing

TigerPlace, an “aging in place” site, celebrates its grand opening.
Friday, June 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Upon first glance, TigerPlace, the MU Sinclair School of Nursing’s residential apartment facility for seniors, looks more like an upscale hotel than an apartment building. Walking trails, gardens, even on-site veterinary care, are a few of the amenities available to future residents.

TigerPlace — which had its grand opening Thursday — is operated by MU in partnership with Americare, a Sikeston-based company. Eleven of the 33 units have been reserved, and residents are waiting for city approval to move in to the apartments.

Columbia’s TigerPlace, along with yet-to-open locations in Kirksville, Cape Girardeau and Springfield, were approved by the state as “aging in place” sites. “Aging in place” allows residents to “receive the care they need — from minimal assistance to skilled nursing care — in the comfort of their own apartment,” the MU News Bureau said. TigerPlace is the only site of the four associated with MU.

Hallways feature strategically placed skylights designed to maximize sunlight and keep the corridors well lit. To avoid a hospital feel, the hallways bend, adding to the hotel atmosphere. Each room is equipped with pull-cords that activate two-way speakers, allowing residents to call for help in emergencies. Doorways can be hooked to a device similar to garage door opener to accommodate wheelchairs.

Students play a vital role in TigerPlace. SeniorCare, a department of the nursing school, will run a Wellness Center, which will provide assessments of residents’ needs along with health and exercise programs.

Residents will receive annual wellness assessments to discuss needs, potential needs, risks, medications and ways to stay healthy longer, said Marilyn Rantz, a professor at the nursing school and the TigerPlace project director.

Aside from the real-world experience nursing students will gain through their work with SeniorCare, TigerPlace also serves to help the school gather necessary data to determine whether “aging in place” offers a viable alternative to nursing homes.

This is important because, “people live a much higher quality of life if they can stay in one place,” said MU spokesman Christian Basi.

MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine will run a veterinary exam room at TigerPlace. Time spent at TigerPlace will allow vet students experiences working with older clients and their older pets, Meadows said. Older pets are more likely to have geriatric problems not usually seen by students.

MU’s electrical and computer engineering department has taken an active role in TigerPlace as well. Engineering professor Marjorie Skubic said that in addition to advising the nursing school about what technology is available, the department is pursuing funding to put in new technology including a monitoring system that measures gait using floor vibrations.

“MU’s role would be to develop software to use collected data to extract patterns of activity so that we can more intelligently monitor what people are doing and identify potential problems,” Skubic said.

One program that allows students of any major to get involved with TigerPlace is the student mentoring program, which matches residents with career experience with a student studying that same area, Rantz said.

Every college and school within MU can be part of TigerPlace, said TigerPlace executive director Charles Servey. This involvement is part of the facility’s business agreement.


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