Elizabeth Dugan, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston, and her research team were recently awarded $96,504 by the Tufts Health Plan Foundation to provide statistics on aging communities in Massachusetts. The statistics are required for a Tufts Health Plan Foundation initiative to improve the health and well-being of elderly in Massachusetts, which started in July, 2012.
Dr. Dugan started the research this Fall along with her fellow researchers, gerontology professors Frank Porell and Nina Silverstein. Her PhD students at UMass Boston, including Kristina Turk and Chae Mau Lee, also assisted her.
Dugan, and her research team’s goal is to gain a better understanding of health-related issues among people over the age of 65. The researchers will focus on elderly populations within different zip codes to gain a detailed understanding of their health throughout the state.
The researchers are attempting to determine what indicates a healthy aging process. According to Dugan, some possible indicators of a “happy and healthy aging process include, having a good diet, being socially engaged and be physically active, and feeling safe and secure within their community.”
They will be analyzing a large amount of data, mainly from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to determine major health-related issues facing elderly persons. “The research will accomplish two goals,” Dugan said. “It will determine what the state of healthy aging is in Massachusetts, and secondly it will identify problem areas.”
“For instance, [the research] may find that a lot people in the Cape don’t have access to health care or they don’t have a regular doctor. Or we might discover that people in the Berkshires are obese and have terrible access to healthy eating or something like that.”
Dugan is hopeful that such problems, once identified, will be easily solved by community activism and awareness. The research will enable people “to identify these trouble spots, and the policy makers or hospitals or doctors or [community members] themselves will be able to do something to try and fix those trouble spots.”
UMass Boston and The Gerontology Institute are supporting Dugan’s research by providing workspace student volunteers. The annual report will be presented to the Tufts Health Plan Foundation on December 10, 2012, and the final result will be announced next year.
Dr. Dugan completed her PhD at the University of North Carolina. She has been working at UMass Boston for over 2 years. UMass Boston is the second-oldest university in the world to offer a PhD in gerontology.