Gerontology PhD Candidate Natalie Pitheckoff Examines Bonds Between Older Adults and Animals

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits

Natalie Pitheckoff with her rabbits, left to right, Gizmo, Sir Ziggy and Madame Bushwick

Call it the Domino effect.

Natalie Pitheckoff, a gerontology PhD candidate at UMass Boston, has spent years observing and studying the impact of pets on older adults, particularly those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Her proposed PhD dissertation  involves analyzing the policies and practices of nursing homes when it comes to human-animal interactions.

Pitheckoff was recently awarded a dissertation grant to support her work from the UCLA Law School’s Animal Law and Policy Small Grants Program. The program is funded by Bob Barker, the retired television game show host and long-time animal rights supporter. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation About Retirement Insecurity with Katherine Newman

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, has devoted much of her career to documenting conditions facing poor and working-class Americans. Her new book, Downhill From Here, Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality, examines the perilous state of retirement in the United States. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Newman about the dangers facing the pension system, Social Security and other forms of economic support for Americans as they grow older. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

 Len Fishman: Your book reads in part like a post-mortem of the defined benefit pension system. Defined benefits provide a fixed pre-established benefit for employees at retirement, usually based on length of service and salary. They hit their high-water mark in 1980 and then plummeted. What happened?

Katherine Newman: Union density began to decline sharply at the same point. The defined benefit pension system is very much a creature of the collective bargaining power of unions. That’s why defined benefit systems tended to exist mainly where there were unionized workers. And as union density slipped — in part because of deregulation and industry competition – the strength behind the defined benefits began to shrink. Today, a very small minority of Americans have what we would call true pensions – 401(k) plans are definitely not pensions in terms of security and employer responsibility for investment. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology PhD Alum Elizabeth Chen Named State Secretary of Elder Affairs

Elizabeth Chen came to the field of public health later in life. She’s been making up for lost time ever since.

Chen, who had been the chief executive of two companies and a leader in higher education, came to the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2012 as a gerontology PhD student at the McCormack Graduate School. She received her degree in 2016, completing the program faster than any student in UMass Boston history.

Now Chen is about to lead the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs. Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker named Chen to succeed Alice Bonner as the next Elder Affairs secretary. She officially starts her new job June 3.

“We welcome the expertise and knowledge that Dr. Chen will bring to Elder Affairs as the new secretary and look forward to the hard work she will do to build on the progress achieved under [Bonner] that made Massachusetts an age friendly state,” Baker said. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Research Team Completes Report on Healthy Aging in New Hampshire

Mass. Heatlhy Aging Team

The Healthy Aging team, left to right: Wendy Wang PhD, Bon Kim, Nina Silverstein PhD, Jay Lee PhD, Sae Hwang Han, Shiva Prisad, Frank Porell PhD, Haowei Wang, Beth Dugan PhD. Team members not in photo: Natalie Pitheckoff and Evan Chunga.

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Boston has delivered a comprehensive new report on the health of older people in New Hampshire, along with detailed profiles of 244 communities in their state.

The first-ever New Hampshire Healthy Aging Data Report was prepared by researchers at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute, led by associate professor Beth Dugan. The report, funded by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, was released April 2 at a legislative breakfast at the New Hampshire statehouse.

“We are all aging,” said Dugan. “Identifying and understanding the gaps in healthy aging will allow communities to continue to adapt, improving quality of life for all New Hampshire residents.” Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Student Shiva Prasad Studies How to Create Ideal LGBT Online Senior Center

By Caitlin Connelly

Imagine an online LGBT senior center. What would that look like and how would it serve visitors?

These are questions on Shiva Prasad’s mind. The third-year gerontology PhD student at UMass Boston recently presented preliminary research findings on the subject at the LGBT Elders in an Ever Changing World conference in Salem, Mass.

Nearly 200 people attended the one-day conference held to discuss the needs and desires of older adults and caregivers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Organizations helping put on the event included the LGBT Aging Project, North Shore Elder Services and the Over the Rainbow LGBT Coalition, Salem State University School of Social Work, Care Dimensions, and AARP Massachusetts. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Jim Wessler of the Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer's bill signing

Some of the challenges faced by people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families can be found in a doctor’s office or a hospital. Large numbers of people affected are not diagnosed or, in some cases, not told of the diagnosis. Hospitals and their staffs are not always prepared or trained to recognize and help patients with Alzheimer’s. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Jim Wessler, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter, about those challenges and a landmark law passed last year in Massachusetts intended to deal with them. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Len Fishman: The Alzheimer’s Association reports less than half of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease have been diagnosed and less than half of them have been told of their diagnoses. That means about one in four Americans with Alzheimer’s know they have it. What are the impediments to diagnosis?

Jim Wessler: People with diseases don’t want to hear the bad news so there may be some reluctance to bring it up with their doctor. But in survey data, well over 90 percent of both patients and physicians say a cognitive assessment is important. An overwhelming number of people expect their physician will bring it up. Most don’t go to their doctors and say, “I want to get my blood pressure checked and I want the blood test for cholesterol and while you’re at it, let’s look at my sugar count and all that.” You expect the question as part of their assessment of your health. Right or wrong, consumers expect doctors will do it. Continue reading

Gerontology’s Kathrin Boerner to Represent Boston Campus at UMass Faculty Speaker Series

Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner will represent the UMass Boston campus this week at the annual University of Massachusetts Faculty Speaker Series in Florida, describing her ongoing research into the relationship between children and their surviving parents later in life.

The events, hosted by the University of Massachusetts Foundation, will feature presentations by one faculty member from each UMass campus. The speakers will be appear March 13 in Palm Beach and in Naples the following day.

Boerner, who teaches at the McCormack Graduate School, was selected as the UMass Boston speaker to discuss her research analyzing relationships between children age 65 or older and a parent who is at least 90 years old. In many individual cases, that became a study of mothers and daughters late in life. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Adds 12 New Fellows Offering Wide Range of Academic Expertise

The McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute has welcomed 10 new fellows, all from the UMass Boston campus, who bring additional expertise in nursing and health sciences, public policy, sociology and economics to the organization.

“This move formalizes our collaboration with these individuals, which has been going on for a while,” said institute Director Len Fishman. “The overall growth in fellows reflects our growing research portfolio and the multidisciplinary nature of gerontology.”

The institute’s newest fellows also come from UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy within the McCormack Graduate School and the Institute for Community Inclusion. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Senior Housing Design Authority Victor Regnier

Victor Regnier is, perhaps, the nation’s leading authority on the design and development of senior housing with service across the LTSS continuum. A joint professor at USC’s School of Architecture and Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Regnier is the only person to achieve fellowship status in both the American Institute of Architects and the Gerontological Society of America.

As a designer and practicing architect, he has provided consulting advice on more than 400 building projects in 38 states and several foreign countries. As an academic, he has written 10 books or monographs and directed more than 20 research projects. Regnier’s latest book, Housing Design for an Increasingly Older Population, was published in September 2018.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Regnier about  northern European models of senior housing with supportive services and their influence on housing for older adults in the United States. The following is an edited version of their conversation.


Len FishmanLen Fishman:
Your view of housing and services for older adults has been deeply influenced by models from Northern Europe, especially Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. How did this happen?

 

Victor Regnier: I had been working on a research project with the head of geriatric medicine at UCLA in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. I wanted to examine new housing models and had an upcoming sabbatical. He said I should go to northern Europe. He had been impressed by their attitudes and perspective on creating non-institutional circumstances for older people, especially older frail people. I ended up going to five countries. I asked to see the most non-institutional or residential housing for the frailest individuals and visited 100 buildings.

LF: You were coming from a country where, at that point, there was no assisted living to speak of and the idea of housing with supportive services hadn’t emerged yet. What were your impressions? Continue reading

In the Depths of Winter, a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student Starts Planning For Summer

This is another in an occasional series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

One semester down, many more to go. Looking ahead, I need to make an important decision about the best way to spend my summer. This is a question that students are faced with throughout their academic career.

There are many options rattling around in my mind and the choice between them feels hazy. Like most students, I have lots of interests and concerns that pull me in different directions. Do I follow my wanderlust and spend time traveling or do I help plant my roots here in Boston? I would like to gain research experience but how do I go about doing that? Should I spend time productively or give myself a little break after a strenuous academic year? How do I continue paying my bills? Are workshops and conferences worth the investment of money and time?

I reached out to some faculty and more experienced students to ask them for advice about how to determine a path I should take. Continue reading