Gerontology Institute Afield

Shannon Gimbrone '03 with young Dominican friends

The Gerontology Institute, which graduated its first majors at this year's Commencement (ICQ, 2003/2, page 13), is one of the College's most visible units, with faculty and students involved in a plethora of activities with health care professionals and the general population in Tompkins County and surrounding areas.

One of the institute's lengthiest and most far-reaching efforts, the Pathways to Life Quality study, came to a close at the end of the summer. This collaborative endeavor with Cornell University began with a 1995 pilot study of some 100 Kendal at Ithaca "founders" who moved into the continuing-care retirement community even before its official opening. In 1997 the study expanded to include elders in other types of housing in Tompkins County. "The study compared individuals' health and well-being in the different housing arrangements," says professor and Gerontology Institute director John Krout, "as well as the impact of moving into a new setting.'' About 20 faculty members and 150 students from both institutions were involved in collecting and analyzing the enormous amount of data collected at three intervals. The final data set includes information from more than 1,100 older adults. Krout and Elaine Wethington, codirector of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute, coedited a book on the project, Residential Choice and Experiences of Older Adults: Pathways to Life Quality, released by Springer Publishing this summer.

The four-year Allied Health Geriatric Interdisciplinary Team Training project was also finalized this year. Funded by the Bureau of Health Professions, it was conducted in collaboration with the Finger Lakes Geriatric Education Center (FLGEC) and IC's School of Health Sciences and Human Performance. Its overall goal was to increase allied health students' knowledge of the interdisciplinary assessment of older adults, with a focus on rural settings.

Since last October the local project coordinator of the FLGEC has organized 10 workshops in rural Finger Lakes counties on topics such as under- standing dementia-related behaviors and managing stress for care providers. More than 360 people, primarily professional and paraprofessional staff from skilled nursing facilities and home care programs, have attended. Workshops continue, and the program now reaches even farther, as the ICGI has expanded its geriatric training to Herkimer, Madison, and Chenango Counties. The Central New York Area Health Education Center awarded a $30,000 grant to support this and other training activities.

In May more than 135 aging-service professionals attended the Gerontology Institute's annual conference on campus. The institute received $5,000 in external funding for the conference, including a $1,000 grant from the Emerson Foundation to support scholarships for professionals and family caregivers to attend. This year's symposium explored the many challenges that arise from a diagnosis of dementia. Sessions addressed issues such as pharmacological treatments, coping for caregivers, Parkinson's disease, and pain assessment and management for individuals with dementia. "I am so impressed with this conference," says Robyn Hamme, a participant who works as the life enrichment coordinator at Alterra Clare Bridge Cottage, an assisted living facility for Alzheimer's patients in Ithaca. "Speakers were very knowledgeable, and every detail was nicely handled."

The FLGEC has joined forces with Ithaca College's instructional support services group in Academic Computing and Client Services to develop Web-based training for health and aging-service professionals. The first training module, "Real Problems with Real Solutions: A Practice Approach to Geriatric Depression," presented by Lisa Kendal, was made available in August.

The institute has also been working regionally with social studies teachers to develop, implement, and evaluate lesson plans that use information on aging and involve activities with older adults. "Not surprisingly," says Peggy McKernan, manager of the public school project, "we have found that student attitudes about older adults become more positive and their knowledge about aging issues increases as a result of the lessons." To date some 1,500 students have participated in a wide range of classes taught by several dozen teachers.

And in perhaps the most wide-reaching activity of all, a member of the first graduating class of gerontology majors, Shannon Gimbrone '03, traveled to the Dominican Republic in May with a group of students on the annual trip coordinated by sociology professor Hector Vélez-Guadelupe. This year gerontology professor Mary Ann Erickson and physical therapy professor and chair Katherine Beissner traveled with the group, teaching a course called Aging and Health Care in Latin America.



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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 29 October, 2003