Dr. Naoko Muramatsu, associate professor in community health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, recently received just over $3 million from the National Institute on Aging to examine the effectiveness of a safe physical activity program led by home care aides for home-bound seniors. “Physical activity benefits all of us, but those who have difficulties walking or standing have few opportunities to participate; they cannot join the gym or go to group exercise,” says Dr. Muramatsu.
[Photo: Dr. Naoko Muramatsu]
Dr. Muramatsu believes utilizing home care aides to lead the program will be valuable for all involved; home-bound seniors will be able to enjoy the benefits of physical activity that would most likely be unavailable otherwise, and home care aids will be able to take a more active role in their work.
“This research will set the stage for a new model that will facilitate a culture where home care aids and clients will work together to maintain health,” Dr. Muramatsu says, adding “Home care aids are very important so that people can stay in the community, but their work is often not recognized. This will empower home care aids.”
Most important to Dr. Muramatsu is that the physical activity intervention will be applicable in real-world health care settings by community-based organizations (such as home care agencies and state units on aging) to maintain independence among nursing home-eligible older adults living in their homes. “I am interested in doing something that is feasible in a real-life health care system. Health care is changing rapidly. Illinois’ public home care delivery system has changed dramatically in Illinois over the past couple of years. So all of us – researchers, research participants, and our community partners – are learning from each other to develop and implement what will work best for older home-care clients and their caregivers in the new health care environment.”
While implementing this kind of community-based intervention research requires significant commitment and resources, Dr. Muramatsu is confident the program will be a success due to the long-term relationships and contributions that the current study is built upon. “This intervention program started in California, and we worked closely with organizations and people who helped develop it over the years. There are decades of collaboration involved,” she says. As the United States’ aging population increases, this kind of buy-in will be crucial in order to examine and address the challenges that exist for this group of people.
Dr. Muramatsu is the principal investigator on the grant; Dr. Michael L. Berbaum, Dr. David X. Marquez, and Dr. Surrey M. Walton are co-investigators; and Dr. Joseph Zanoni and Dr. Katya Cruz Madrid are collaborators.