URI students to present health and wellness projects at local senior center May 4

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Posters highlight work of Academic Health Collaborative

KINGSTON, R.I., April 28, 2016—University of Rhode Island students majoring in programs as different as psychology, pharmacy, physical therapy, health studies and human development are teaming up to tackle health problems plaguing older adults.

Five teams of 12 students will present their work—as posters—on Wednesday, May 4 during a health and wellness fair at the South Kingstown Senior Center, 25 St. Dominic Road in Wakefield.

The service-learning project stems from a class taught by Phillip G. Clark, a University of Rhode Island human development and family studies professor and director of the URI Program in Gerontology and the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center.

Clark says his students’ work is an example of what can be accomplished through URI’s new Academic Health Collaborative—created to increase collaboration among different health professions and departments and foster teamwork to address challenging health issues.

“The class was a great success,” says Clark. “Not only did students explore healthy aging, they learned how to work together as a team. That collaboration is crucial as we try to find solutions to challenging health problems in our communities.”

The Collaborative, launched in March, is expected to spur cooperation and innovation in research, inter-professional education, population health, health promotion and recognition and elimination of health disparities. The initiative could also pave the way for faculty-led health clinics, new programs in public health and health policy and worksite health programs, as well as student projects like the one from Clark’s class.

Participants in the wellness fair can expect to see posters about the following topics:

Active Aging. Pharmacy, nutrition, health studies and physical therapy students compared older adult populations throughout the world and examined what’s being done in different countries to help those people live longer, healthier lives.

The participating students are Alexandra Hayes, of Westerly, R.I. (pharmacy); Samantha Weydig, of Oyster Bay, N.Y. (health studies); and Marissa Smyrski, of Ira, Vt. (physical therapy).

Sleep and Insomnia. Research shows that people who are less active and unemployed or retired may experience more sleep difficulties, including having trouble falling or staying asleep. Changes to daily routines often happen with aging and can affect sleep as well.

Older adults are also more likely to have chronic health conditions, which require medications that could prevent them from sleeping. The project provides information about the causes of sleep deprivation and ways to improve sleep.

The students are Hannah Suarez, of Hamburg, N.Y. (pharmacy); and Alexandra Nobel, of New London, Conn., (psychology).

Preventing Falls. The project looks at the health risks for older adults if they fall and what they can do to prevent falls. The students will show participants exercises to improve their balance. The topic is important for older adults: They are the population that has the most mortality associated with falling. Fall prevention can also help reduce hospitalizations and improve long-term outcomes.

The students are Sarah Chinn, of Cranston, R.I. (pharmacy) and Kelsey Sheehan, of Lovell, Maine (pharmacy). Janice Hulme, associate clinical professor in the URI Physical Therapy Department, was a resource to the students on this project.

Memory Changes with Aging. The project explains the differences between normal and abnormal memory changes during aging and looks at foods and activities to improve memory. The students are Rachel Gyllenhammar, of Longmeadow, Mass., (pharmacy); Carey Jeffrey (human development and family studies), of East Greenwich, R.I.; and Chelsea Namias, of Brick, N.J. (health studies).

Diabetes as a Chronic Disease. Diabetes is a common chronic illness among older adults. Proper treatment of the disease is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Patient education is key to manage symptoms and keep the disease under control. The project examines the importance of medication, exercise and diet, and looks at how to properly use insulin. The students are Alexis Hayes, of Westerly, R.I. (pharmacy) and Tingchia Liu, of New York, N.Y. (pharmacy).

More than 300 people are expected to attend the fair, says Victoria Gasiorowski, of Shelton, Conn., a student intern at the senior center who came up with the idea for the wellness fair.

“It’s going to be an educational and wonderful event,” says Gasiorowski, a double major in communicative disorders and psychology. “The URI students have been extraordinary. I think if you want to get anything done efficiently, you need to do it with a team. You have more access to more people, more networking, more resources. Teamwork is the best approach.”

The posters were made possible through a federal grant awarded to URI to implement health education for older adults through the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program. The purpose of the grant is to provide professional training opportunities for people who care for older adults.

Pictured above: Students in a team-focused health and human services class at the University of Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Phillip G. Clark.