Assistant Professor Qian Song Joins UMass Boston Gerontology Faculty

By Martin Hansen-Verma

Qian Jasmine Song, a demographer and sociologist with broad research interests relating to the health of an aging population, has joined the UMass Boston’s Gerontology department faculty as an assistant professor.

Song, who most recently was a NIH/NIA postdoctoral fellow at the RAND Corporation, comes to the McCormack Graduate School from Santa Monica, Calif., with her husband and three-year-old son. After living in a variety of places across the U.S. over the past 12 years, she said had been looking forward to the move to Boston.

“It’s a very beautiful city,” she said. “The ethnic and intellectual diversity, and the whole Boston intellectual community are really attractive to me, as well.”

Song sees Boston as an ideal place to pursue her research interests, examining the effects of migration on physical and mental health outcomes of older adults. Continue reading

Study Examines Impact of Medicare Purchasing Program on Skilled Nursing Facilities Serving Vulnerable Populations

What happens when the government decides to reward skilled nursing facilities that perform better and penalize others that don’t do so well? The early results were not good for facilities that primarily serve vulnerable populations.

A new study led by Gerontology Institute Fellow Jennifer Gaudet Hefele looked at first-year results from the Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program that provides bonus incentives and payment penalties to facilities based on performance. The research, recently published in Health Affairs, found facilities serving vulnerable populations got fewer bonuses and were subject to more penalties. Continue reading

Building Better Networks for Adults Aging with Autism

This post originally appeared in Autism Spectrum News.

By Caitlin Coyle and Danielle Waldron

Although traditionally understood as a childhood condition, autism is a lifelong disorder that presents in both children and adults. Many of the children with this disorder who were born during the last century and who are now reaching mid- and later-life did not receive formal diagnoses of autism. Further, increases in human longevity and the aging of the largest birth cohort (born between 1946-1964) in our nation’s history suggest that although prevalence rates of autism remain around 1% of the population, the sheer numbers of these adults stands to increase dramatically in coming years.

Caitlin Coyle, left and Danielle Waldron

Caitlin Coyle, left, and Danielle Waldron.

These adults on the spectrum who live much or all of their lives without diagnoses, often struggle to develop their personal identities. Due to their difficulties with communication and relationship development, they work tirelessly to manage their disorder in order to assemble lives that include stable employment, intimate social relationships and families. As one adult aging with autism describes (his or her) life without an autism diagnosis, “…something basic was missing: Not knowing how to think about and appreciate ourselves.” Continue reading

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

Institute Research Team Gets Funding for Healthy Aging Reports Covering Rhode Island, Connecticut

Healthy Aging NH

UMass Boston gerontology PhD student Haowei Wang shared New Hampshire Healthy Aging data with N.H. state Rep. James MacKay at a legislative breakfast in April.

A UMass Boston research team that recently published comprehensive reports on the health of older adults living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire has received new funding to produce similar studies covering two additional New England states.

The team at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute received grants of $448,000 from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation to support healthy aging data reports for Rhode Island and Connecticut. Tufts had funded the earlier healthy aging state reports as well.

Research for the new reports began this month and is expected to be complete by April 2021. The team will be updating a previous Rhode Island report it published in 2016. The Connecticut research will become the basis of that state’s first healthy aging data report. Continue reading

The Aging Paradox: A Look at Later-Life Satisfaction Through the Eyes of OLLI Members

Olli members

Clockwise from top left, OLLI members Mary Doller, Al May, Jean Hunt and Steve Vorenberg.

By Caitlin Connelly

A good paradox can turn the obvious on its head.

That’s a fair way to describe the aging paradox, a concept well-known to gerontologists that challenges presumptions about the way people feel as they grow older. True, there may be many forms of loss or limitation that come with older age. But there is also empirical evidence that shows people actually experience a greater level of life satisfaction as they grow older.

In the process of living to an older age, transitions often become more than a simple shift from work to retirement and bring people to a more peaceful frame of mind, according to Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston.

“Older adults often arrive at this point where they feel like they’ve experienced a lot but they’ve also learned a lot from the experience,” said Boerner.

Those transitions can be driven by conventional forces of work and family. But the kind of older-life satisfaction described by the aging paradox is often rooted other kinds of experiences. “People get to that point from very different trajectories,” said Boerner.

The Gerontology Institute Blog asked members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to describe their transition into the earlier stages of older life and how they felt about it. Their responses illustrate just how different those trajectories can be. 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

News Flash: UMass Boston Gerontology Makes Headlines in 2018

By Taryn Hojlo

UMass Boston’s gerontology faculty and students produced exciting new research findings and achieved remarkable public service achievements in 2018. The news media took notice.

Associate professor Beth Dugan and her Gerontology Institute colleagues published the 2018 edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report in December.The comprehensive report examined a vast array of health indicators on a community-by-community basis, creating an essential resource for policymakers and local leaders to better serve Massachusetts seniors. News coverage by WBUR in Boston looked at seven key takeaways from the report. The Boston Globe dove into the healthy aging data and produced a front-page story examining the impact of depression among elders. Dugan and her team ended the year at work on a similar report profiling the health status of seniors in New Hampshire. Continue reading