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The Institute on Aging and the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) presented a forum on April 6 highlighting collaborative research in aging between the University of Virginia, governmental agencies and service associations in Central Virginia. The Institute and JABA jointly sponsor a community research grant program which brings together academic and community leaders to address the critical health, social and economic challenges facing the aging population of central Virginia and beyond. The forum showcased the work of the most recent grant recipients as well as twenty additional research teams engaged in projects ranging from senior driving safety to fall prevention. Their efforts are making vital contributions to promote healthier, more independent and longer lives for senior citizens living in our communities.

The information-packed afternoon began with welcoming remarks by John R. Nesselroade, Director of the Institute and the Hugh Scott Hamilton Professor of Psychology. He noted the ongoing need for a variety of research efforts in advance of the “silver tsunami,” the demographic revolution which will see the doubling of the population age 65 and over by 2030.

Thomas Skalak, Vice President for Research at U.Va., delivered the keynote address: “Partnerships for Innovation in Aging: Strategies and Directions for Collaborative Research, Education, and Services.” His responsibilities include establishing the University as a leading competitor in science and technology and promoting a research culture which supports innovation and discoveries that will transform society.

Skalak echoed Nesselroade's comments on the “revolutionary shift in aging demographics” and noted the critical importance of translational research such as the projects included in this program. Translational research involves applying laboratory or other results into practical, real-world applications for seniors, their families, and for society as a whole.

As an example, Professor P. Paxton Marshall of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering presented his work with Professor John Quale of the School of Architecture and others on “Aging in Place through Monitoring and Communication to Family Caregivers.” They are developing an inexpensive wireless energy monitoring system to extend the period of seniors' independent living by providing family caregivers with a means of monitoring the activities of aging relatives through the internet. Caretakers can monitor the wellbeing of elderly residents based on their use of the stove, television, and other appliances. This research team has also investigated an automated response mechanism. If sensors indicate an unexpected decline in activity, the caregiver receives an automated telephone call; he or she could call the senior and check the system's internet site to see the cause of the alarm.

Erika Herz, Manager of Sustainability Programs at the Darden School and two Darden students presented their team's work on “Developing a Community Food System Program Serving JABA.” She worked with other University professors and JABA staff to investigate how to most effectively increase offerings of locally-sourced and therefore fresher, more nutritious, and better-tasting food for the 3,500 meals a week JABA serves its clients. This team also included Timothy Beatley, the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities in the School of Architecture. Their work enhances the health and quality of life of JABA beneficiaries and other seniors in the Charlottesville community while contributing to the revitalization of the local agricultural economy. This benefits, by extension, all local citizens.

Joshua Magee, a doctoral candidate in the psychology department, reported on his work with psychology Professor Bethany Teachman to better understand seniors' intrusive thoughts and their impact. These repeated and unwelcome thoughts are central to a range of problems, including anxiety, depression and insomnia. Magee noted that over ninety percent of adults have intrusive thoughts and that the remaining ten percent may not be admitting they too have them.

Gaining a better understanding of these thoughts and seniors' reactions to them may lead to preventing and alleviating some anxiety in this population. Practical applications of this team's work included working with JABA to conduct workshops for seniors on intrusive thoughts and the related anxiety they can produce. Their research, like that of other teams, has the additional and widespread benefit of promoting seniors' healthy and independent living.

Research projects presented in scientific poster format included:

  • “Virginia Driving Safety Laboratory: Assessing and Treating Driver Health” presented by Daniel J. Cox and Scott Bender, both of the UVA School of Medicine
  • “Sleep Disturbances and Related Symptoms in a National Community-based Sample of Older Adults” by Karen Rose and Denise Landers, School of Nursing
  • “Accurate, Fast Fall Detection Using Gyroscopes and Accelerometer-Derived Posture Information” by Anthony D. Wood of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

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Last Modified: 18-Jun-2008 15:25:26 EDT
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