Older Americans Month at the University of Houston

Marisa Ramirez
713-743-8152 (office)
713-204-9798 (cell)
mrcannon@uh.edu

As you pursue stories relating to Older Americans Month, please consider these experts from the University of Houston:

Keep On Truckin’
Driving with a visual impairment may seem impossible, but not so say faculty at the University Eye Institute’s Center for Sight Enhancement at UH. Spectacle-mounted telescopes are being studied for use in spotting signs and objects at a greater distance to increase lead time and driving confidence. A team of optometrists, ophthalmologists, certified low vision therapists, occupational therapists and driving instructors evaluate and train patients before they apply for a license to drive. Stanley Woo, assistant professor of optometry, can be reached at 713-743-2375 or swoo@optometry.uh.edu and Erika Andersen, certified low vision therapist, can be reached at 713-743-2379 or eandersen@optometry.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. 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.

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), 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.

Longevity by a Nose
While eating light 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 Baylor College of Medicine 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.

We All Fall Down
University of Houston researchers are using biomechanical measures to evaluate the stability of those with mobility issues, such as the elderly. It is hoped these innovative methods will lead to practical ways to restore a stable gait or prevent falls in frail populations. Max Kurz, associate professor in the UH Department of Health and Human Performance, also has studied the gait of penguins in hopes of understanding stability. Reach him at 713-743-2274 or mkurz@mail.coe.uh.edu.

Graying of Cultural Disparities
Older Americans may be emerging as a highly visible and growing segment of the population, but within this population are racial and ethnic minorities who have faced a lifetime of social, economic and political discrimination and cultural affront. Steven Applewhite, associate professor in the UH Graduate College of Social Work and an expert in Hispanic gerontology, says people who are entering old age face challenges such as health and economic disparities and changing cultural values and traditions. Reach him at 713-743-8099 or sapplewhite@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 assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, can be reached at 713-795-8307 or jtsherer@uh.edu.

Clearing Things Up
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. 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 adaptive technology as head-mounted electronic magnifiers. Stanley Woo, low vision services director, can be reached at 713-743-2375 or swoo@optometry.uh.edu.

Vision Rehab after Brain Insult
Brain injury and stroke may result in loss of peripheral vision. Oftentimes, patients lose one half of their visual scene, making it difficult to walk around or even read. Optometrists at the University Eye Institute’s Center for Sight Enhancement at UH are investigating whether the use of spectacle-mounted prisms and a rehabilitation regimen can help to overcome this functional loss of vision and are evaluating whether the dynamic visual field created by scanning eye movements may compensate for the loss. Kia Eldred, clinical associate professor of optometry, can be reached at 713-743-1977 or keldred@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.