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Healthy aging at home

Healthy aging at home

A new joint study by Loyola faculty and community leaders aims to provide better resources to help aging residents of Edgewater remain in their homes and communities

By Maura Sullivan Hill

Can you guess the percentage of people aged 65 and older who live in skilled nursing homes? Lisa Skemp, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, likes to ask her students and colleagues this question, and more often than not, people tend to overestimate. Guesses usually are in the range of 30 to 40 percent, but in reality the number is around 3 percent.

So where does this kind of misperception come from? Skemp, an expert in community health and gerontology and chair of the Department of Health Systems, Leadership, and Policy, says that negative representations of aging—from anti-aging trends in skincare to portrayals of older persons in pop culture—all play a role.

“There are issues in terms of understanding what aging is, and there tend to be ageist beliefs that young is good and old is past its time, or, by some, to be thrown away,” Skemp says. “But aging isn’t a problem, it is an option. Growing older is a positive, it means we are living longer. Now we want to do this in a healthy way grounded in dignity, respect, and inclusion of all citizens within the fabric of the communities in which we live.”

And as people live longer, more of them are doing it at home and in their own communities, as opposed to in nursing homes, assisted living, or other traditional care facilities. Skemp—with Monica Dillon, RN, director of the School of Nursing’s Loyola-Community Nursing Center; Alderman Harry Osterman’s office; collaborators from across the University; and other community partners—is leading a new study that will help promote healthy aging in the Edgewater neighborhood around Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. The study uses a culturally informed healthy aging community assessment to understand how people in Edgewater are aging in the community and what resources they need to continue living in these neighborhoods as they age, from grocery stores to health care access to programming.

For over 35 years, as part of the educational mission of the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, the Community Nursing Center has offered community health nursing experiences for students to learn about community health and at-home nursing care and support for the older adults in the Edgewater, Rogers Park, and Uptown neighborhoods. The Community Nursing Center has helped citizens of all ages to access essential health services, in particular for those who cannot afford them.

Skemp’s study aims to learn from older adults and other citizens how elders acquire the things they need to age well in community. Additionally, the study aims to facilitate sustainable partnerships with Loyola to address these needs.

“This first phase is a community context study,” says Skemp. “This means that we are essentially listening to and observing how older adults acquire the things they need to age well in community. Additionally, we aim to partner with key community members and organizations. The idea is to partner with key community members to best help everyone build capacity within the community for health and aging well.”

They are currently in the start up research phase, where they are gathering data from the community through letting key community members know about the project, undertaking a community assessment, interviews, observations and developing a community advisory board.

The team will also hire and train community members to assist with some of the research. Once the interdisciplinary team and community advisory board has enough information to make recommendations, the goal is to develop joint programs and partnerships between Loyola and the community that will help facilitate aging.

Colleagues and their students are engaged in this work. “I am a nurse ethnographer, so I use anthropological methods and make nursing decisions in a culturally informed way,” Skemp says. “We’re also working with the Health Sciences Division, the Department of Computer Science, the Quinlan School of Business, Institute for Transformative Interprofessional Education, Public Health, Dietetics, Health Systems Management, Exercise Science, and the Center for Urban Research and Learning.”

The computer scientists on the research team are developing an app for data collection. The goal is that the culturally informed model, once refined and tested, can be upscaled to other communities. Business students, including senior Sezim Zamirbekova, are working on analyzing the data, as well as the financial component of any future programs the research team might propose.

“It is a collaborative, community-wide effort aiming at building relationships with and between community institutions and leaders,” says Zamirbekova, a business information systems major who is also on the pre-medicine track. “Resources and opportunities abound; so how do we use them in such a way as to maximize well-being for the community’s elders?”