Northeastern Joins New Research Center on Healthy Aging

January 26, 2015

Northeastern’s membership in this new Roybal Center dovetails with the university’s focus on health—one of its primary research themes—and builds upon its leadership in research on healthy aging. Photo via Istock.

North­eastern is a founding member of a new multi-​​university research center focused on healthy aging. In par­tic­ular, the center will develop and test inno­v­a­tive strate­gies to pro­mote, increase, and sus­tain phys­ical activity among middle-​​aged and older adults.

Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, will lead the North­eastern team involved in the Boston Roybal Center for Active Lifestyle Inter­ven­tions. The center launched this fall with sup­port from a five-​​year, $1.5 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tute on Aging.

Based at Bran­deis Uni­ver­sity, the center will har­ness the exper­tise of its institutions—which also include Boston Uni­ver­sity, Boston Col­lege, and the Har­vard Med­ical School-​​affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife—and their inter­dis­ci­pli­nary researchers to develop and test moti­va­tional, social, and behav­ioral strate­gies to sup­port increased phys­ical activity, espe­cially for adults at high risk of poor health outcomes.

According to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, one in three adults world­wide is not active enough, and phys­ical activity is the fourth-​​leading risk factor for death. Phys­ical inac­tivity is cited as a key risk factor for health prob­lems ranging from car­dio­vas­cular dis­ease to diabetes.

“There are numerous health risks asso­ci­ated with a seden­tary lifestyle, par­tic­u­larly for older adults,” Fulmer said. “As a center, our goal is to work col­lab­o­ra­tively to create and advance research that pro­motes behav­ioral change and helps this pop­u­la­tion live healthier, more active lives.”

The center is testing and piloting strate­gies using a variety of per­son­al­ized and mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approaches. North­eastern researchers are leading three of the center’s first five pilot projects:

• Carmen Sceppa, pro­fessor of health sci­ences, will examine whether a peer-​​led, community-​​based group group exer­cise pro­gram improves how frail, seden­tary older adults deal with their pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive emo­tions, and if so how these improved emotion-​​regulation strate­gies enhance their daily phys­ical activity and well-​​being.
• Holly Jimison, pro­fessor of the prac­tice in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is devel­oping and pilot testing a novel and scal­able approach to aug­menting depres­sion pre­ven­tion and man­age­ment, with a focus on low-​​income older adults living inde­pen­dently at home. The project builds upon her work using an existing soft­ware plat­form for semi-​​automated remote health coaching.
• Eliz­a­beth Howard, asso­ciate pro­fessor of nursing, is imple­menting Vitalize 360, a com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment system and per­son­al­ized well­ness coaching pro­gram for vul­ner­able, low-​​income com­mu­nity dwelling older adults.

The center will work to create and advance research in this field, in addi­tion to training other aca­d­emic researchers and com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tions to help older adults increase their activity level and lead a healthier lifestyle, Fulmer said.

There are cur­rently 13 Roybal Cen­ters nation­wide. The cen­ters were autho­rized by Con­gress in 1993 and are named for the chair of the former House Select Com­mittee on Aging, Edward R. Roybal. They are intended to develop and pilot inno­v­a­tive ideas for trans­la­tion of basic behav­ioral and social research find­ings into pro­grams and prac­tices that will improve the lives of older people and the capacity of insti­tu­tions to adapt to soci­etal aging.

Northeastern’s mem­ber­ship in this new Roybal Center dove­tails with the university’s focus on health, one of its pri­mary research themes.

Fulmer said North­eastern is excep­tion­ally well posi­tioned to con­duct use-​​inspired research across dis­ci­plines to address health and healthy aging. Building on its lead­er­ship in this area, North­eastern this fall estab­lished a center designed to advance nursing sci­en­tists’ research and effec­tive tech­nology inter­ven­tions for improving self-​​care and self-​​management for America’s older adults. The North­eastern Center for Tech­nology in Sup­port of Self Man­age­ment and Health, also known as NUCare, is sup­ported by the National Insti­tutes of Health’s National Insti­tute of Nursing Research.