Institute Talk: A Conversation with Carl V. Hill on the NIA and Health Disparity Research

Carl V. Hill is director of the Office of Special Populations at the National Institute on Aging, which leads the federal government in conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. Hill recently visited the UMass Boston campus, where he was the featured speaker at the first annual Gerontology Institute Fellows Dinner. Earlier that day, Hill talked with Institute Director Len Fishman about his career, how he promotes funding for health disparity research and current priorities for the institute’s $3.1 billion research budget. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Len Fishman: How did you first become interested in a career in public health and health disparity research in particular?

Carl V. Hill: I was in the first class of the Masters of Public Health program at the Morehouse School of Medicine. The founder of that program was Dr. Bill Jenkins, who passed away this year. He was one of the first whistle-blowers on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. He was also a mentor to many African-Americans in public health and he started this program that allowed many of us to have a start. Later, I had a chance to study for my PhD at the University of Michigan. I worked with people like Woody Neighbors and James S. Jackson, who both worked on the Survey of American Life. They also worked on the Survey on Black Americans, the first data collection on the lives and health of African-Americans in this country. Continue reading

Expert Advice for Institute Fellows: How to Secure Research Funding at National Institute on Aging

Len Fishman, Carl Hill, Lauri Nsiah-Jefferson and Shayla Turnipseed.

Left to right, Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, NIA Office of Special Populations Director Carl Hill, Gerontology Institute fellow Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson and guest Shayla Turnipseed.

Carl Hill got right to the point when he brought up the subject of research funding priorities at the National Institute on Aging.

“The ‘A’ in NIA stands for aging but it’s leaning toward Alzheimer’s,” Hill told more than 40 researchers and guests attending the first annual Gerontology Institute Fellows dinner at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Hill, director of the NIA Office of Special Populations, spent a full day on the UMass Boston campus discussing funding opportunities within his institute and its $3.1 billion research budget. He pointed to the NIA’s $425 million funding increase specifically dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease research this year (by comparison, the NIA’s general appropriation for the year increased $84 million).

“We’re really part of the race for a cure,” he told the June 10 dinner audience. “We also want to understand the important determinants and factors that will help us slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.” Continue reading

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

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

Panel Recommends Ways to Improve Identification, Treatment For Hospital Patients With Dementia

Nina SilversteinHospitalization is a stressful experience for most patients. But a person with dementia typically needs three days to recover pre-hospital function for each day hospitalized.

That caution has always stuck with Nina Silverstein, a professor of Gerontology at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. She kept it in mind as a member of a state Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Acute Care Advisory Committee.

The 16-member committee recently published its recommendations for Massachusetts hospitals treating patients with dementia. Their report is intended to drive future discussion that will ultimately shape best practices to identify dementia and/or delirium and adjust care plans accordingly. Continue reading

Measuring Dementia Caregiver Mindset That Can Impact Well-Being at Work

By Meghan Hendricksen

The way professional caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia think about dementia can have a significant impact on their well-being at work. The risks of burnout and negative emotions are clear.

Lena Kunz of Groningen University in the Netherlands has conducted research focusing on professional caregivers in Germany, examining different aspects of well-being such as burnout, overall job satisfaction, affective well-being as well as self-reported behavior at work. She developed a new scale measuring the mindsets of those workers while trying to answer the question: What makes a good caregiver good at giving care? Continue reading

Dr. Renee Beard Examines Risk of “Social Demotion” With Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

By Meghan Hendricksen

The early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive impairment can be more than a medical finding. It can become a new and serious challenge to a person’s social identity.

That was one of the findings from the latest research by Dr. Renee Beard, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross. Beard kicked off the Fall 2017 Gerontology Speaker Series at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School with a talk entitled “Forget Me Not: What Gets Lost in Translation in the Alzheimer’s Industrial Complex.” Continue reading

UMass Gerontology Alum Natalie Leland Receives $4.7M Contract for Dementia Care Research

A research team led by UMass Boston Gerontology alumna Dr. Natalie Leland has received a $4.7 million contract to compare the effectiveness of two care delivery models for nursing home residents living with dementia.

The contract from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute will fund a five-year study comparing care models at 80 nursing homes in 10 geographic regions across the United States. More than 700,000 Americans residing in nursing homes live with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Continue reading