The National Institute on Aging has awarded USC occupational therapy researchers a four-year, $2.2 million grant to expand on their successful Well Elderly program.
Florence Clark, professor and chair of the department of occupational science and occupational therapy, is principal investigator of the new study. Clark also headed the prior study.
Under the project, called “Health-Mediating Effects of the Well Elderly Program,” researchers will try to duplicate the results of their earlier Well Elderly intervention.
In the earlier study, researchers found that occupational therapy delayed age-related declines in the health, physical function and psychosocial well-being of culturally diverse elderly men and women living in federally subsidized housing complexes.
The widely cited study spotlighted the key role of occupational lifestyle redesign, in which a therapist helps a client develop and adopt a routine of beneficial daily activities based on the client’s individual needs.
Clark and a multidisciplinary team of researchers worked with 361 senior citizens in the Los Angeles area. One third of them received individualized occupational therapy while the remaining two thirds either participated in a variety of activities (such as dancing and knitting) led by non-therapists or had no treatment at all.
The one third of seniors who had occupational therapy showed remarkable improvement in quality of life and health measures compared to the other two thirds.
In the new study, investigators will recruit 440 participants from a broader range of settings, including senior centers, medical facilities, apartment complexes and senior education centers. Results can then be more broadly applied to a wider range of senior citizens.
Researchers also will investigate whether the intervention helps cognition, something that was not studied in the earlier investigation.
Investigators will try to find out exactly why the Well Elderly program is so successful. They will assess participants’ activities throughout the day, their sense of control, their social contacts and even key biological markers, such as levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. The investigators will try to link changes in these measures to improved outcomes.
The results will allow for improved planning of lifestyle-oriented treatment for the elderly, a rapidly growing population greatly in need of preventive services.
Investigators on the project include these researchers: Stan Azen, professor of preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine of USC; Bob Knight, professor of gerontology and psychology at USC; Doug Granger, associate professor of behavioral health at Pennsylvania State University; Chih-Ping Chou, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School; Jeanne Jackson, associate professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at USC; Barbara Cherry, research assistant professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at USC; Maryalice Jordan-Marsh, associate professor of social work at USC, and Todd Forman, assistant clinical professor of family medicine at the Keck School.