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An Aging Society: UH Offers Experts for Older Americans Month

Lisa Merkl


An Aging Society: UH Offers Experts for Older Americans Month

May 4, 2010-Houston-A century ago, life expectancy was between 30 to 40 years. Now, close to 800 million citizens are 60 and older. The world is aging through shifts in the age structure, leading to more people reaching older ages than in the past, and through continued success in extending life. As you seek experts for Older Americans Month in May, keep in mind these resources from the University of Houston. For more information, or if you are unable to reach a professor, give us a call at 713-743-8192. 

License to Drive
Driving with a visual impairment may seem impossible, but it's not, say faculty at the University Eye Institute's Center for Sight Enhancement at UH. Spectacle-mounted, bioptic telescopes are being prescribed for use in spotting signs, traffic signals and objects at a greater distance to increase lead time and driving confidence. A team of optometrists, ophthalmologists, occupational therapists and driving instructors evaluate and train patients before they apply for a license to drive. Though not everyone may be eligible, it may be worth exploring. Stanley Woo, low-vision rehabilitation services director, can be reached at 713-743-0799 or swoo@optometry.uh.edu.

60 is the New 40
The graying of America will affect various aspects of life, but the most dramatic may be how society views becoming older. Graying Baby Boomers are choosing civic projects, travel, new careers and other activities that defy the rocking-chair image. Andrew Achenbaum, professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work (and a baby boomer and grandfather), has written about and researched various issues relating to the aging of Baby Boomers and their affect on society. Reach him at 713-743-8070 or Achenbaum@uh.edu.

Another Reason to Exercise

Most commonly affecting people over the age of 50, Parkinson's disease afflicts nearly 1.5 million Americans at a rate of about 60,000 new cases each year. This neuromuscular disease is associated with the loss of neurons in the brain, reducing the amount of the chemical dopamine - critical for motor function - in the body. Some studies have indicated that exercise can increase physical rehabilitation and protect neurons at an early stage in patients with Parkinson's. Vincent Lau, a professor in the College of Pharmacy, is investigating whether exercise alone or a combination of exercise and drug therapy can limit or slow the progress of Parkinson's or the severity of its symptoms. He can be reached at 713-743-1276 or ylau2@uh.edu.

...And Party Every Day
Rock concerts used to attract predominately teenage audiences. These days, seniors continue to attend performances by the artists they worshipped decades ago. With senior artists such as The Who, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones still on the road, it's not surprising to see grandparents attending these shows with their grandkids, as well as much younger artists of their grandchildren's choosing such as Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. Joe Kotarba, professor of sociology, can discuss how touring artists cater to aging fans and why popular music continues to resonate in the lives of seniors. Reach him at 713-743-3954 or jkotarba@uh.edu.

Longevity by a Nose
While reducing calorie intake has been shown to lengthen lifespan, just smelling rich food may actually reverse the benefits of a lifetime of restricting one's calories. Research suggests that the beneficial effects of caloric cutbacks on lifespan may not only depend on the decreased presence of food, but also on the decreased perception of it. Gregg Roman, assistant professor in the department of biology and biochemistry at UH, is collaborating with doctors at the University of Michigan to explore this phenomenon in fruit flies and can comment on the implications of this research for human aging. Reach him at 713-743-5738 or gwroman@central.uh.edu.

Tools to Cope with Vision Loss
The leading causes of irreversible vision loss affecting the elderly include age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Though the effects may not be reversible, low-vision rehabilitation maximizes the use of remaining functional vision so that people can maintain their independence and maximize their quality of life. At the University Eye Institute's Center for Sight Enhancement at UH, faculty provide comprehensive evaluations and rehabilitation plans to help patients read, work and even drive in some cases, using such assistive technology as electronic video magnifiers and other prescription magnifiers and devices. Pioneering technology, including the scanning laser ophthalmoscope, allows doctors to identify areas of functioning retina to make the rehabilitation plan as effective and as efficient as possible. Stanley Woo, low-vision rehabilitation services director, can be reached at 713-743-0799 or swoo@optometry.uh.edu.

Maximizing Meds
Senior citizens can take steps to ensure they are getting the most from their medications. Patients should have a list of the medicines they take that includes the names, dosages, what times of day they take them and their purpose. This list should include over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements and be taken to all appointments. Elderly patients also should keep lines of communication open with their pharmacists to avoid potential drug interactions or other problems, as well as keep themselves up to date and educated about their medications. Jeff Sherer, clinical associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, can be reached at 713-795-8307 or jtsherer@uh.edu.

Graying of Cultural Disparities
Older Americans are emerging as a highly visible and growing segment of the U.S. population. A vast proportion of today's baby boomers are entering retirement far more prepared economically, politically astute and physically active than any previous generation in our nation's history. Lamentably, within this same population also are ethnic elders whose lifetime achievements and contributions are eclipsed by social, economic and political hardships and injustices. Steven Applewhite, an associate professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work and an expert in Hispanic gerontology, says people who are entering old age face a myriad of challenges including racial disparities in health care, depletion of resources and changing cultural values and traditions. Reach him at 713-743-8099 or sapplewhite@uh.edu.

Vision Rehab after Brain Insult
Brain injury and stroke may result in a host of vision problems. Often, patients lose their peripheral vision, experience double or blurred vision and have other eye-health problems and visual deficiencies, making it difficult to walk around, read or engage in simple activities of daily living. Optometrists at the University Eye Institute's Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Service at UH help brain-injury and stroke patients with treatment plans that incorporate lenses, prisms, patching, filters, vision therapy, low-vision aids and specific activities designed to improve control of a person's visual system and increase visual efficiency. Suzanne Wickum, director of this service, can be reached at 713-743-2005 or swickum@optometry.uh.edu


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