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Student competition combines geriatric education and interdisciplinary teamwork

HOUSTON – (April 18, 2012) – The bright, airy room at the J.W. Peavy Center in the Fifth Ward was a far cry from a bowling alley. But the cheers that resounded every time one of the seniors mowed down a strike sounded just the same.

The recent video bowling game was part of the Houston Geriatric Education Center Annual Geriatric Interdisciplinary Student Competition. For students in the Elder Avengers, the game was proof they could initiate an activity that would get bodies and brains engaged in a fun way.

The competition, in its fifth year, is sponsored by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Five teams also included students from the University of Houston, Texas Women’s University and the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. Disciplines among the 45 students were medicine, nursing, pharmacology, dentistry, biomedical informatics, dental hygiene, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, social work, communication science/disorders and acupuncture/Oriental medicine.

“Preventative health is my major interest, especially doing mental health research in the areas of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Viraj Ransing, M.D., who is working on his masters’ degree at The University of Texas School of Public Health and led the Elder Avengers at J.W. Peavy. “We know from studies that mental activity can delay Alzheimer’s. As people age, they need to keep the brain going by finding more activities, things like gardening, dancing and exercising.”

Ransing and another team member, George Zemanek, said they loved the challenge of the competition while working in the field with seniors.

“This has been the most enjoyable project I’ve ever done in earning my masters’ degree,” said Zemanek, an occupational therapist enrolled at Texas Woman’s University. “Working with the other disciplines makes it fun because you see how they tackle the project from their point of view.”

They chose the Nintendo game after researching what the seniors wanted and assessing where they could have an impact.

“We created avatars for all the seniors, which makes it personalized. It gives them something to look forward to,” Ransing said. “Their attention span is less, so they need something short in length. We tried some of the other Wii sports but the existing games took too long for them so we settled on bowling.”

As she finished her turn at bowling at the J.W. Peavy Center, Elnora Walker was smiling. “I like it. I used to bowl,” the Fifth Ward resident said. “We need something like this.”

Team AARP (Astute Alliance of Respectable Practitioners) chose a different route. At the Third Ward Multi-Service Center, they concentrated on giving seniors important information about their healthcare in a way they could easily digest.

“We’re passing on the same information that they have heard before, but in a different package, one that’s focused on them,” said Stephen Powell, a student at the UTHealth School of Nursing. “We’re teaching the basic things for health. In the Third Ward, cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer, so it’s critical for us to talk about this topic.”

On a recent Thursday, Donald Lefeber, a student at the College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, talked to the seniors about the importance of whole-body health. Brandon Bailey, a pharmacy student at the University of Houston, educated them about medications.

One resident told Bailey that if she misses a dose of her cholesterol medication, she will double up on it when she takes the next dose and asked him if that was OK. He explained gently that it may not be a good idea and suggested that she talk to her physician about it.

Along with the J.W. Peavy Center and the Third Ward center, other Neighborhood Centers Inc. sites included the West End Multi-Service Center, Ripley House Neighborhood Center and the Kashmere Multi-Service Center.

After a night of presentations last Tuesday, the competition’s winning team was Team CHANGE (Changing, Honoring, Advocating, Noble Geriatric Educators). Elder Avengers placed second.

The Houston Geriatric Education Center is one of 45 Geriatric Education Centers in the United States funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the center is to reduce health disparities, address causes of vulnerability and meet the social and healthcare needs of older Americans. The principal investigator is Carmel B. Dyer, M.D., professor and chair of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at the UTHealth Medical School. Co-principal investigator is Sharon K. Ostwald, Ph.D., R.N., professor and the Isla Carroll Turner Chair in Gerontological Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing.

Deborah Mann Lake
Media Contact: 713-500-3030