UI aging cluster moves forward

BY LUKE VOELZ | MAY 05, 2011 7:20 AM

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That cute child on the playground is now more likely to live to be 100 years old.

People are living longer than ever, so society needs to strengthen how it takes care of its elderly, Janet Specht, the director of the University of Iowa’s Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence, explained to a crowd of UI College of Nursing faculty on Wednesday.

The crowd gathered for the dedication of the Barbara and Richard Csomay Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence in the UI College of Nursing, for which Barbara Csomay donated $2.2 million.
And the center’s formation also follows the UI’s fall 2010 initiative to hire 14 geriatrics specialists from several academic specialties.

These positions, Specht said, will branch outside nursing programs to fields such as psychology, physiology and pharmacology.

“It’s not just nursing ‘silos,’ ” she said, “[It’s] a more holistic view of aging people and how to take care of them.”

UI officials are conducting interviews to fill the 14 aging cluster positions. UI Neurology Professor Matthew Rizzo, the director of the aging cluster program, said the group has hired one psychology faculty member and are close to completing the hirings for a computer-science faculty member and an image-analysis faculty member.

“The idea is to have people who have a broad range of abilities who can work with each other and cross-fertilize ideas,” he said. “This is a great example of multidisciplinary research, from self to cells and molecules to mind.”

Gerontological programs need a broad spectrum of researchers, said UI nursing Professor Liz Swanson.

“Older people have so many issues you really need input and brainstorming for all specialties and disciplines,” she said.

Swanson said the university has seen extensive federal support for gerontological programs thanks to health-care reform and increased government funding. However, fear of aging has made finding local support for geriatric programs difficult.

“A lot of people don’t want to think about getting old or have the opinion that it’s all downhill [at that age], anyway,” Specht said. “I think that affects our funding.”

Adult and geronotology Professor Keela Herr said she has seen this fear manifest in all ages and fields of study.

“Even [AARP] focuses on wellness and healthy aging, not the problems that often come with aging,” she said. “Students come into health [fields] in acute health, not long-term care. It’s not what people gravitate to unless they have experience in those areas.”

Herr’s own experience comes from helping take care of her grandmother during the final three months of cancer. Doctors were reluctant to prescribe pain medication because of concerns about addiction and the possibility of strong medicine hastening death, which Herr said caused her grandmother unnecessary suffering.

“[There was] a lack of information, and peoples’ attitudes and beliefs about pain management at end of life,” she said. “It was not a good way to die, so I wanted to make a difference in how we recognize and treat pain, even at the end of life.”

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