Kathy Clerkin, at 75, a retired Mercy Hospital nurse, who lives alone in an apartment, works out six mornings a week at the Southtowns Family YMCA.
“You keep busy every day,” she said, “and you wonder what you did when you worked.”
The University at Buffalo Center for Successful Aging wants to help create a lot more Kathy Clerkins. The fledgling effort involves bringing UB healthy aging research off the benchtop and out of the clinical setting, and into daily living in the region.
It began to bubble up about two years ago in Troen’s office at the UB Clinical Translational Science Institute, perched on the floors above the Gates Vascular Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“If we were to make Buffalo the best place for people to get older, for people to retire, it will be the best place for everybody,” says Dr. Bruce Troen, a geriatrician and head of the University at Buffalo Center for Successful Aging.
It has since grown into an effort that involves almost 50 researchers representing 19 UB departments and a dozen schools within the university – including the medical school, Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, departments of physical therapy and occupational therapy, and schools of architecture and planning, engineering, law, nursing, and social work.
The vision for the center includes:
- A clinical brick-and-mortar location that supports aging-related research.
- Education and mentoring at UB and elsewhere, including helping others develop healthier community settings and workplaces.
- Spurring more collaboration across the region among those who serve older residents.
“Buffalo is a great size for remedying fragmentation,” said Danielle Pelfrey Duryea, associate aging center director and assistant dean for interprofessional education and health law initiatives in the UB School of Law. “Our goal is to be a model for how a university and community can collaborate to make major change to quality of life and well-being in a region.”
The ultimate aim: extend both the healthspan and lifespan, and bring them more closely together for all.
“It’s about understanding what the instrumental activities of daily living are,” Troen said. “If we were to make Buffalo the best place for people to get older, for people to retire, it will be the best place for everybody.”
Meanwhile, one of three research projects help explain where the Center for Successful Aging looks to go.
DUAL TASK FITNESS ON SMARTFIT
About 10 percent of Americans have mild cognitive impairment by the time they reach age 65. That grows to about 50 percent by age 85, Troen said.
Ardenia Gildersleeve, Ruby Johnson and Bessie Lee Thomas regularly visit the aerobics room at the William-Emslie YMCA.
All have friends and older family members touched by dementia.
“That scares me,” said Gildersleeve, 71, who, like Thomas, 67, retired several years ago after working four decades at General Mills. They and Johnson, 70, are among almost 40 older members at the East Side Y who agreed in 2016 to participate in a UB research program that continues
Once or twice a week, participants use a Smartfit Trainer system which can muster more than 80 games using a large black screen and nine touch-sensitive square panels set at various heights. In one game, a sort of version of whack-a-mole, each woman put her right foot atop a mid-sized medicine ball as she tapped smiling faces (targets) amid frowning ones that moved haphazardly across the nine panels. They used swimming pool noodles, one in each hand, to register points over a minute.
After several rounds, they were exhausted.
“I didn’t want to get into the habit of not coming,” said Thomas, who recently had knee surgery and has lost 10 pounds during the research.
“These games are fantastic for engaging the body and the brain at the same time,” said Nikhil Satchidanand, an exercise physiologist and assistant professor in the UB medical school. “The whole purpose is that dual task activity can create an environment that is fun and engaging and dynamic – and is scientifically rigorous and proven.”