UMB Gerontologists Tell Legislators Research, Preparation Keys to Helping Older Adults Deal with Impact of COVID-19

Len Fishman, Elizabeth Dugan and Jan Murtchler

Left to right, Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan and professor Jan Mutchler. Fishman, Dugan and Mutchler appear in photos below.

UMass Boston gerontologists offered legislators two suggestions for state government in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: Help researchers better understand what has happened to older adults and get elder Massachusetts residents prepared for a more challenging future.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan and professor Jan Mutchler all appeared individually at a May 15 virtual listening session hosted by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. They joined a wide range of advocates, policymakers and other members of the public to describe the impact the pandemic has had on older adults and what state government should do to help. Continue reading

Zoom Boom: Gerontology Department Moves Online to Conduct 5 Virtual PhD Dissertation Defenses in 4 Days

The new dissertation defense (pets welcome): Clockwise from top left PhD candidate Hayley Gleason defending her dissertation, professor Edward Miller, associate professor Kathrin Boerner, PhD student Molly Wylie, LeadingAge LTSS Center @Mass Boston co-director Robyn Stone and Brandeis University professor Christine Bishop.

Years of work, study and preparation came down to this final step: Defending PhD dissertations to a series of faces on a computer screen.

Conversing with images of people, arranged like tiles on an electronic board, had become a suddenly familiar experience for millions of people as Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms replaced live gatherings amid the growing coronavirus threat. No doubt many PhD dissertation defenses took place that way as campuses shut down across the country in March.

But the UMass Boston Gerontology Department’s busy schedule put that virtual work-around to a serious test: Five remote dissertation defenses in a span of four days. Three of them took place through the morning and early afternoon of a single day.

PhD candidates Andrea Daddato, Danielle Waldron and Hayley Gleason all defended their dissertations on March 31. Yijung Kim followed on April 2 and Haowei Wang defended the following day. All were successful. Continue reading

Who cares for those most vulnerable to COVID-19? 4 questions about home care aides answered

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation website. 

The elderly and those recovering from surgeries are among the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill as a result of COVID-19. An army of 3.5 million home care aides are responsible for taking care of them and others who need help, whether in homes or assisted care facilities. Marc Cohen, Robyn Stone and Christian Weller, gerontology and public policy researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, have been studying this group and explain who they are – as well as their vulnerabilities.

1. What do home care aides do?

Home care aides are a crucial part of our health care system for people who need extra help. They play a critical role in helping address and manage the potentially catastrophic impacts of the current pandemic on seniors and those living with disabilities. Continue reading

How Gerontology Classmates Became Published Research Team Working on Course Project

Jeffrey Stokes

Jeffrey Stokes

They started out as four UMass Boston gerontology students taking a standard graduate course, Families in Later Life. Before long, the classmates developed into a research team.

Assistant professor Jeff Stokes was teaching the course in the spring semester of 2019 and he quickly realized the unusually small class – consisting entirely of those four students – presented a rare opportunity.

Rather than assigning students to prepare individual final papers, Stokes suggested they could collaborate on a single research project. He put it to a vote and the decision was unanimous.

Stokes talked with students Celeste Beaulieu, Cindy Bui, Elizabeth Gallagher and Remona Kanyat about a topic that would interest them all and reached a quick agreement.

They prepared a draft article by the end of the semester and a final version of “For better or for worse: Marital status transitions and sexual life in middle and later life” was recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Continue reading

Students Jump in to Help Pension Action Center Manage Surge in Callers Seeking Help With Benefits

Pension Action Center student program participants

The students who helped the Pension Action Center process a big increase in calls for assistance. Left to right, Elizabeth Arpino, Kailyn Fellmeth, and Andrew Bellahcene.

Can you wear out a phone?

The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute is always busy fielding calls from people seeking help to track down their pensions or investigate benefits they believe they are owed. But the pace of callers seeking PAC helped went into overdrive during the fall.

That posed a problem for the small center with a limited number of people on hand to manage the volume. One solution: A grant from the McCormack Graduate School allowed PAC Director Anna-Marie Tabor to hire UMass Boston undergraduate students to jump in and help process the pension queries during the fall semester. Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Defending Retiree After Pension Plan Sent Her $37,000 Bill for Error it Made Long Ago

The Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center is part of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. It provides free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income workers, retirees and their survivors in the six New England states and Illinois whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. This is one in an occasional series of posts about cases the center pursues on behalf of its clients.

 Pensions are supposed to provide modest but regular income to help retirees make ends meet. Imagine a pension plan that instead sends a beneficiary an unexpected bill for $37,000.

This actually happened to “Sue,” a Pension Action Center client from Bridgeview, Ill. The plan in question said it made a mistake long ago and, as a result, had been paying her too much for years. It wanted to settle the matter by cutting off all her payments in the future, starting immediately.

The PAC helpline has been receiving an increasing number of calls from clients like Sue dealing with pension plan “recoupments.” In those cases, pension plans seek to correct their own miscalculations by demanding repayment from unsuspecting beneficiaries. Continue reading

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Busy Gerontology Students Mixed Work with Pleasure

Summer is history.

Most of UMass Boston’s gerontology students enjoyed the vacation break and hopefully some even found their way to chairs on a beach. But many also worked on gerontology research projects, attended professional events or participated in fellowships at some point during the summer.

Haowei Wang, Adrita Barooah and Nidya Velasco Roldan all attended the prestigious RAND Summer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. All said they had become interested in the institute based on recommendations of others. In particular, Sae Hwang Han and Yijung Kim had both traveled from UMass Boston to attend the institute the previous summer.

“It was a great opportunity to network and meet new people,” said Barooah. “Compared to a lot of big conferences, the RAND institute was more personal, which helped me get to know fellow attendees and their work better.” Continue reading

How Gerontology Grad Used MAS Capstone Project to Help Launch New Service Organization

By Taryn Hojlo

Erin Kopecki didn’t consider much beyond the grading rubric when she drafted a business plan for her gerontology capstone project at UMass Boston. Her professor told students they could satisfy the project’s requirements with either a research paper or a business plan. As someone with an interest in management, Kopecki was quick to declare her choice.

Like most of her Management of Aging Services assignments, she had written the capstone in piecemeal during lunch breaks and the rare bits of downtime that her full-time job as a home care scheduling coordinator allowed. But that project would later become the plan to launch TUCKed-In Eldercare, a geriatric management organization she co-founded on Nantucket. Continue reading

Dr. Shuangshuang Wang, Gerontology Graduate, Thanks Her Village at McCormack

By Saadia Ahmad

The first time that Dr. Shuangshuang Wang learned of the gerontology field was from a professor in college who mentioned that while there are many researchers interested in child development, far fewer are focused on the development of older adults. She enrolled in a class on human aging and discovered an interest in care-giving and marital relationships in the later stages of life. From that point forward, she began thinking about how to improve life quality at the larger stage of human development and found the Gerontology PhD program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

That was seven years ago. Last month, Wang graduated with a doctoral degree in gerontology and with the Gerontology Book Award, presented to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence across both coursework and dissertation work. Continue reading

Better Tools Needed to Evaluate Health Care Consumer Engagement Strategies

Consumer engagement has become a health care priority, but it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies and organization-level plans developed to achieve that goal.

In a recent blog post for Community Catalyst’s Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, authors Marc Cohen, Erin McGaffigan and Danielle Skenadore argue that “consumer engagement” itself is a term of art and can mean many different things.

“While the concept appears to have many supporters, how [it] is defined and applied in practice is much less clear,” they wrote. “Moreover, evidence-based strategies for successfully engaging consumers that are linked to clearly articulated and specific outcomes are few and far between.” Continue reading