Getting Better With Age
More than 40 million people in the United States are 65 or older, a number expected to reach 55 million by 2020. Keeping this growing elderly population safe, healthy, and thriving is becoming increasingly important as baby boomers age. UT Arlington's interdisciplinary research endeavors exploring exercise, memory, high-tech homes, and mental health in minority groups aim to help aging Americans live longer and more independently.
AIDING ELDERLY LATINOS
Psychology Assistant Professor Pablo Mora believes that to improve elderly Latinos' experience with mental health, he must ask a lot of questions. He recently began surveying the experiences of 140 Latinos age 55 and older.
That group has poorer physical and mental health outcomes than non-minority individuals, and cultural differences could play a role.
"We're anxious to learn whether there are differences in the way people experience depressive symptoms and also how they think about them," Dr. Mora says. "We want to know how their beliefs influence decisions to seek care."
He also will interview up to 100 senior citizens of other races to make comparisons. Mora conducted his first interviews at Mission Arlington, a nonprofit that provides some health care. His work is funded by The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.
Researchers from the College of Engineering and College of Nursing hope that by making homes smarter, they can help seniors, injured veterans, and people with disabilities live safer and happier lives.
In late 2010 the University created the Smart Care center, a discovery and demonstration venue for technologies designed to assist those populations. There, researchers evaluate the usefulness of existing medical monitoring devices and integrate advanced sensors, wireless communication, and other technologies into a simulated home environment.
The research team includes Interim Vice President for Research Carolyn Cason, and Associate Professors Manfred Huber and Gergely Zaruba and Senior Lecturer David Levine from the Computer Science and Engineering Department. Nursing Assistant Professor Kathryn Daniel is the program manager.
Technologies slated for evaluation include a bathroom with a health-monitoring toilet, an electronic medication delivery and reminder system, and a sleep center equipped with sensors to monitor sleep disturbances.
EXERCISING THE BODY AND MIND
What if memory loss due to old age wasn't inevitable? Research that combines exercise and cognitive tests may someday give seniors a greater ability to remember.
Crystal Cooper, a graduate student in health psychology and neuroscience, has worked with a group of seniors 60 to 80 years old for almost a year. First, she and her colleagues established a baseline for their cardiovascular, physical, and cognitive functions. Then, the group was tested again as they participated in a six-month exercise program that included treadmill sessions three times a week. The same steps will be repeated with more seniors as the study progresses.
"We look at a variety of factors. But the thing we're most concerned with is memory," says Cooper, who is conducting the research under the direction of psychology Associate Professor Timothy Odegard. "Most of the previous research hasn't dealt with the loss of episodic memory, which is a chief complaint of older adults."