New ASU center confronts the silver tsunami

By

Emma Greguska

If one thing was clear Wednesday afternoon at the launch of the Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation’s Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging, it was this: The silver tsunami is here.

“It's been crashing around us for a very long time and it keeps growing,” said David Coon, associate dean of research at the Edson College and director of the new center.

This is something Coon has been keenly aware of since he first joined ASU and began lobbying for such a center back in 2004. ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle was on board from the beginning, and the pair began drafting a plan of action. Then the bottom dropped out of the economy and their plans were put on hold for 15 years.

The launch of the center comes just one month after Charlene and J. Orin Edson made a $50 million gift to ASU — half to the Edson College and half to the Biodesign Institute — in support of the university’s groundbreaking, multidisciplinary research on dementia and to enhance education and training for nurses and caregivers.

“We’re really appreciative of the Edson family for their very generous and substantial donation to help ensure this college thrives long into the future, and part of their interest is synergistic with the creation of this center,” Searle said.

karshmer, searle and coon

From left: Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Dean Judith Karshmer, ASU Executive Vice President and Provost Mark Searle and Associate Dean, Professor and Center Director David Coon talk with one of the college's students before the launch of the new Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging on April 24. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

The Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging was formed from the merger of two ABOR-approved centers housed at the Edson College, the Center for Healthy Outcomes in Aging and the Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing Excellence, and will leverage their existing activities and accomplishments for its foundation.

The center’s mission will be to advance transdisciplinary research that helps solve challenges in aging from the individual to the policy level by connecting faculty, students and community partners in biomedical research, clinical studies and behavioral interventions.

Coon, a member of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, has decades of experience in age-related research and community engagement, from behavioral interventions that utilize music to hosting public talks and teaching classes on the subject. Earlier this month, he received the David Besst Award from the Arizona Caregiver Coalition for his contributions to improving family caregiving.

“He is infectious when it comes to his passion around this work and his desire to make sure that it's inclusive of both ASU and the community,” Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer said.

At Wednesday’s launch event, Coon listed some alarming statistics that underscore the urgency of the need for research and education in aging:

• As soon as 2030, for the first time in America’s history, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 18.

• Arizona has the fourth fastest growing aging population in the nation, and the proportion of that population that is growing the most rapidly is those aged 80-plus, what researchers call “the oldest old,” a population they know the least about.

• Arizona is No. 1 in the nation for proportional increases in instances of Alzheimer’s and dementia between now and 2025.

• Alzheimer’s is now the fourth leading cause of death in the state of Arizona.

“One only has to look at Japan to see what happens to a country completely unprepared for the demography that has overwhelmed them,” said Searle, whose own scholarly work has focused on aging, looking at how to preserve older adults’ independence. “They are now a country that is so top heavy in terms of age — well over 22% are over 65 — that they don't know what to do.

“It's my hope that this center can engage very broadly across the disciplines to engage that subject in meaningful and substantial ways and that they build relationships with the center for neurodegenerative disease in Biodesign so that we can really be thinking about these things in as holistic a way as we possibly can.”

Also at Wednesday’s event, Coon named the center’s first three teams of faculty scholars and their research projects:

• Narayanan Krishnamurthi, assisant professor in the Edson College; Pavan Turaga, associate professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering; and Daniel Peterson, assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions for their project titled, "Towards real-time fall risk assessment in Parkinson’s disease by continuous monitoring of free-living activities."

• Cheryl Der Ananian, associate professor in the College of Health Solutions; Sonia Vega-Lopez, associate professor in the College of Health Solutions; and Hyunsun Oh, assistant professor in the School of Social Work for their project titled, "Evaluating the effectiveness of the Diabetes Prevention Program – Group Lifestyle Balance (DPP – GLB) in individuals with prediabetes and arthritis."

• Wenlong Zhang, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; Erin Chiou, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; and Karen Marek, Bernita “B” Steffl Professor of Geriatric Nursing in the Edson College for their project titled, "Understanding fall risks and mobility independence in older adults with smart shoes."

The Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging is still accepting applications for faculty fellow or affiliate status and will be waiving its requirements for prior active involvement in the center through the rest of the spring 2019 semester.

“The truth of the matter is we can be resilient even at the end of life,” Coon said. “(The center) is going to help us launch a national venture in aging. … We can lead the nation here.”

Top photo: David Coon, associate dean, professor and Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging director speaks at the launch of the new center at Health North, on the Downtown Phoenix campus on April 24. The center will be located within the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and will advance research to help understand and solve challenges in aging. Coon said, "Aging: If it's not your issue, it will be." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now