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Dedicated to Dignity
Dedicated to Dignity

Changing Health Care Delivery Through Focused Research

By Judy Gelman Myers

Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., RN, FAAN, spent a lifetime ensuring nursing home residents and people with dementia live with dignity, more independence and quality of life through her research and innovative approach to care.

In honor of her impact on the nursing profession, Tappen, the Christine E. Lynn Eminent Scholar and professor in FAU’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, recently earned the 2021 International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame award at the 32nd International Nursing Research Congress in Singapore.

Her career began at Wagner College in New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, followed by a master’s and doctorate in nursing education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, N.Y.

After earning her degrees, Tappen steered her career toward research, starting with work on a colleague’s grant at the University of Miami. “That experience opened my

eyes to the great wide world of grant funding,” she said. “Not a grant for grant’s sake, but for the opportunity to do projects and studies we wouldn’t have had the resources to do otherwise.”

Tappen joined FAU’s faculty in 1995 and began integrating ethnogeriatric content (health care for older adults from diverse ethnic populations) into a nursing

specialty track in the master’s program. She was also instrumental in obtaining a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish a doctorate in nursing practice degree program at the College of Nursing.

In addition, through a start-up award from the Administration on Aging, she founded the Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. The Center has a state-supported diagnostic unit, adult day center and other activities and educational programs for people with memory disorders, their families and caregivers.

“I can remember when people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease were tied in a chair and ignored. No more. Here we treat people with dignity and

respect, no matter how advanced the disease,” said Tappen, who served as director of the center for seven years. “Our research tells us that people with memory disorders often know much more and can do much more we typically give them credit for.”

Tappen regularly serves as a study panel member for National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is a member of a Veterans Administration Merit Review Panel.

Her latest research, funded by a $5.3 million award from NIH, involves testing an in-vehicle sensor system that gives older drivers warnings of early cognitive change. The system is comprised of cameras that follow the

“We have to understand that these diseases aren’t happening to numbers. They’re happening to real people with real families who really care about them.”
—Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., RN, FAAN

driver’s eyes and objects around the vehicle and another sensor placed under the seat that records how fast the driver is going, how they do at night and in bad weather. The data will help researchers develop algorithms that detect early cognitive change.

She’s also collaborating on a device to predict falls before they happen. The team is using large datasets, wearable sensors, and electronic health records to monitor changes in people before they fall.

“We have to understand that these diseases aren’t happening to numbers. They’re happening to real people with real families who really care about them,” Tappen said. “Understanding that principle shapes the way we conduct our research.”