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The goal of this study is to test the effects of a technology called Elder Tree designed for and used by older adults and their family caregivers. The primary purpose of Elder Tree, a web-based information and communication technology (ICT), is to improve older adult quality of life.

The study is a randomized longitudinal trial conducted by the Active Aging Resource Center (AARC). AARC is a consortium of university, state, and community partners headquartered at the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.

The Need

Almost 90% of adults over 65 want to live in their homes as long as possible, also referred to as aging in place. Challenges to aging in place include isolation and loneliness, falling, managing medications, and driving and transportation.

Technology may improve outcomes for older adults. However, few technological systems have been designed specifically for older users or rigorously tested for effectiveness.


The primary hypothesis is that older adults assigned to Elder Tree will, compared with a control group, have improved quality of life (QOL). Secondary hypotheses are that older adults assigned to Elder Tree will have, compared with those in the control group, improved independence, lower healthcare costs per Quality-Adjusted Life Year (QALY), less loneliness, fewer falls, improved medication management, and greater ease of transportation and driving.

Elder Tree has been developed by content experts collaborating with older adults, caregivers, and community and state partners, such as local Aging and Disability Resource Centers and the Wisconsin Bureau of Aging. Information about falls prevention was adapted from the Stepping On falls prevention program, with permission of its authors. The design of the Elder Tree interface and the services available in the system have been developed by working closely with hundreds of older adults.

Participants in the study - older adults and their informal caregivers - are randomized to an intervention group that uses their usual sources of information and communication and has access to Elder Tree from laptops and other devices, or to a control group in which participants use only their usual sources of information and communication. Participants in the Elder Tree group receive access to Elder Tree for 18 months and, if needed, a computer and Internet service.


Funding Period:
June 1, 2011 - May 31, 2017
Principal Investigators:
David Gustafson Sr., Ph.D
Jane Mahoney, M.D

Fiona McTavish
AARC Study Coordinator

Scott Gatzke
Elder Tree Director of Dissemination


  • Trials
    The Effect of an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on Older Adults' Quality of Life: Study Protocol for a Randomized Control Trial

    Gustafson Sr. DH, McTavish F, Gustafson DH, Jr., Mahoney JE, Johnson RA, Lee JD, Quanbeck a, Atwood AK, Isham a, Veeramani R, Clemson L, Shah D

    View Abstract | Cite
  • Journal of Medical Internet Research Human Factors
    Using the NIATx Model to Implement User-Centered Design of Technology for Older Adults

    Gustafson DH, Jr., Maus A, Judkins J, Dinauer S, Isham A, Johnson R, Landucci G, Atwood AK

  • Transportation Research Part F, Traffic Psychology and Behaviour
    Contextual design for driving: developing a trip-planning tool for older adults

    Payyanadan RP, Gibson M, Chiou E, Ghazizadeh M, Lee JD.