Health AGEnda

Elder Abuse Researchers Honored at GSA

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Greetings from Boston! Most of the John A. Hartford Foundation’s program staff are here in the land of “Hahvahd,” “cahs,” and “pahking,” preparing for a busy weekend at the 64th annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. Many of our grantees will be in attendance as well, and we are pleased that several of them will be honored with awards. Today I want to highlight two of our grantees, one in medicine and one in nursing. Both have contributed greatly to the growing awareness of the prevalence of elder abuse and neglect.

On the medicine side, we have Beeson scholar (2008) XinQi Dong, MD, PhD, the recipient of the Maxwell A. Pollack Award for Productive Aging. The award is given annually to a mid-career researcher whose work bridges the divide between research and practice in the field of aging. Dr. Dong studies elder abuse and neglect in the United States and China, with a particular focus on adverse health outcomes across different racial and ethnic groups. Associate Director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center, Dr. Dong is also a 2010-11 Health and Aging Policy Fellow, allowing him the opportunity to work with policy leaders to improve public policy relevant to elder abuse and neglect.

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Sexuality Complicates Late-Life Relationships

While reading the article “Desire in the Twilight of Life” in the Wall Street Journal, by Mark Lachs, MD, director of geriatrics for the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and professor of clinical medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College, I was reminded of a lively dinner conversation with a group of friends, most of whom also work in the field of aging.  My friend, a geriatric psychologist, commented that all medical and psychological exams of older people should include an inquiry about sexual activity.  Our friend, a geriatrician, vehemently disagreed, stating that most of her patients are so frail, and many demented, that it would not be necessary to ask.  They argued back and forth for a bit, when I interjected a relevant story about my grandfather.

The author's mother, Lorraine OBrien (left), at age 61, and grandfather, Ralph Andreana (right), at age 90.

My grandfather‘s second wife (he was widowed), Gladys, was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease when we shared a two-family house in New Jersey.  I saw Gladys every day. She and I had a special love for each other, and when I came home after work her whole face lit up in recognition.  She couldn’t speak, but we would sit and hold hands while watching TV.  One night my grandfather came into the room, and I felt and saw Gladys cower and become frightened.  Knowing my grandfather, I surmised the reason.  I took him aside and told him he had to stop having sex with Gladys.  He became angry and said that it was his wife’s duty.  I explained that she couldn’t willingly consent to have sex with him and that in her confused state she probably didn’t know what he was doing and he might be hurting her.  We talked about Gladys’s dementia and my grandfather’s needs.  I convinced him to see a counselor.  Fortunately I knew a wonderful geriatric social worker who worked with families of Alzheimer’s patients.  My grandfather met with her many times and I could see him change in his behavior towards Gladys.

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Shining a Light on Elder Abuse and Neglect

Cheryl Sullivan, CEO of AAN (left), and Terry Fulmer (right)

A few weeks ago, I devoted a blog to our grantees who received awards at the recent GSA meeting in New Orleans. Before the meeting began, one of our grant programs, Building Academic Geriatric Nursing Capacity (BAGNC), held its annual Leadership Conference. I am happy to report that another grantee was recognized there for her outstanding work: Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, who received the 2010 Nurse Leader in Aging award. Dr. Fulmer, Dean of the College of Nursing at the College of Dentistry, New York University, has shown outstanding leadership in nursing education, research, and practice.

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