Texas Tech University

Interior Design Undergraduate Researchers Create Innovative Design Solution to Prevent Falls at Assisted Living Facilities

Hannah Fields

May 27, 2021

Denton and McCoy

Shelby Denton and Kendra McCoy have created a touch sensing floor system designed to help guide seniors during nighttime hours

Looking to improve the wellbeing of seniors residing in assisted living facilities, Interior Design undergraduate researchers Shelby Denton and Kendra McCoy created an innovative solution to prevent falls as part of their Design for Health Innovation research. 

Both Denton and McCoy's research was inspired by their own grandparents' experiences as residents in assisted living facilities – especially where falls are concerned. 

“We chose this because we have both had elderly grandparents in assisted living facilities and noticed that the spaces were poorly designed for the residents who live in them,” Denton and McCoy explained. “In addition, we have both had grandparents who have fallen while living in one of these facilities. There are so many people with similar experiences, and this inspired us to create a solution for assisted living facilities, specifically pertaining to falls.”whole system

Throughout their research process, Denton and McCoy discovered that most seniors experience falls in their bedrooms or bathrooms during the night hours. Using this information, an innovative solution was born – a touch sensing floor system that can detect when residents are walking at night, or when a resident has fallen. Not only does this system alert caregivers, but it is also designed to heat the floor path from a resident's bed to the toilet to help them find their way. The heat path also includes the ability to connect to the lighting in the room so that when pressure is detected, low lighting will come on to help a resident see where they are going. 

In addition to the heating and lighting abilities, this wayfinding system provides caregivers and health professionals with essential data to improve patient care. 

phone alert“The floors have the ability to send information to a cloud of data storage that stores data on the gait patterns of assisted living residents,” Denton and McCoy said. “This is important because changes in gait patterns can be an early sign of illnesses or diseases. Essentially, the floors will help reduce falls, assist seniors with wayfinding, and store data to detect early signs of illness in assisted living residents.”

With the main goal of reducing injury-related falls and/or death related to falls in assisted living facilities in sight, Denton and McCoy are now preparing to move forward with their floor design by partnering with the Texas Tech Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. College of Engineering. This process is aided by Denton and McCoy's mentor and lab coordinator, Debajyoti Pati, Ph.D.

It was also Dr. Pati who inspired Denton to pursue undergraduate research in the Design for Health Innovation Research Lab. 

“Dr. Pati visited one of my studio classes before my junior year to introduce the idea of participating in an undergraduate research program,” Denton said. “I am always excited about opportunities that arise and constantly look for ways to better myself. I chose to participate in the lab because I saw it as an opportunity to improve problem seeking, collaboration, and innovation skills.”

McCoy's shared interest in research and desire to learn more about the impact of interior design on health is what drew her to the lab.

“What drew me to the opportunity of becoming an undergraduate researcher was the ability to learn more about how interior design impacts health, in all settings, not just healthcare spaces,” McCoy said. “I was drawn to the Design for Health Innovation Research Lab because the opportunity allowed me to have a graduate-level research opportunity while I was still an undergraduate.”

While driven by their inquisitive nature, Denton and McCoy also credit their success and inspiration to faculty mentors. 

Denton said she has been greatly impacted by Interior Design instructor Jan S. Parker, Ph.D., RID, FASID, IIDA, NCIDQ, IDEC, who encouraged her to be involved in the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and to participate in the Design for Health Innovation Research Lab. 

McCoy named assistant professor and Interior Design Program Director Michelle Pearson, Ph.D., as a great influence who pushes her to do her best while lending a helping hand when needed. 

Denton and McCoy also spoke of Dr. Pati and his impact on them both as students and researchers, saying he helped them grow while working in the lab by offering constructive criticism and facilitating the growth of their ideas. 

“Dr. Pati made an impact on me because he made me realize the value creativity has in improving our lives,” Denton explained. “He is always encouraging and open to our ideas while also pushing us to improve them.”

When asked what advice they might have for students considering undergraduate research, Denton says to jump right in. 

“For any student at Texas Tech who is interested in a research opportunity, I would say absolutely do it,” Denton said. “My time as an undergraduate researcher has been one of the best educational experiences I've had, and Texas Tech does an amazing job at offering research opportunities to students of all majors and classifications.”

When asked about the Interior Design program, McCoy recommends the program for future students who might be interested.

“To anyone interested in majoring in interior design, my advice would be to embrace your creativity and take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves,” McCoy said. “I have gained knowledge from the program on topics I had no idea I would get to learn about.”

While Denton and McCoy are preparing to begin their senior year in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech, both already have plans after graduation. 

Denton is currently considering the Interior Design master's program, with the goal to become a licensed designer and to work at a commercial interior design or architecture firm designing spaces that positively impact the lives of others. 

McCoy is also considering the Interior Design master's program at Texas Tech, with the goal to become a licensed designer and to work at a design firm in Austin. Her main goal, however, is to own her own residential design and construction firm in Central Texas