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Center sponsors research, outreach to help older minorities with health issues

When Olivia Washington first decided that she wanted to learn more about homeless Black women over the age of 50, colleagues told her to forget about it. Trying to find these women and win their trust would be next to impossible, they figured.

Washington received a very different message from researchers at The Michigan Center for Urban African American Aging Research, a unique collaboration between U-M and Wayne State University, who helped her refine a research plan and obtain funding for a pilot study.

Olivia Washington speaks with one of her subjects (Photo courtesy of ISR)

As she feared, Washington had little trouble finding subjects. Now she has not only finished interviewing 100 older Detroit women but also is testing an innovative program to help them take control of their lives again. "These women are vulnerable on so many levels," says Washington, an assistant professor of nursing at Wayne State. "I hope to use what I've learned to help make their lives better."

Homeless Black women, depressed Latinos, and men and women of color, coping with chronic pain, are among the vulnerable elderly in the Detroit community who stand to benefit from more than $3 million in new funding from the National Institute on Aging just awarded to the Michigan Center. The center sponsors research and community outreach projects designed to promote the health of older African Americans and other minority populations in
the greater Detroit area. Another major goal of the center is to mentor minority investigators like Washington, say co-directors James Jackson of the Institute for Social Research and Peter Lichtenberg at Wayne State.

Speaking at a recent dinner at the Michigan Union for the center's investigators, Jackson noted that in addition to research on African American elders, the center is starting to develop expertise on the rapidly growing populations of older Detroit-area Latinos and Arab Americans.

Hector Gonzalez, a research investigator at the School of Public Health, is one of the center's new pilot investigators, studying depression and mental function in older Mexican Americans in the community. "This center has been a refuge of sorts, allowing me to work with other researchers of color who have shared concerns," Gonzalez says.

Among the other pilot projects funded by the center and being conducted by U-M and Wayne State scientists are studies on Black-white differences in wealth-income ratios, the role of inner-city pharmacists in improving medication compliance among minority elderly with hypertension, and the role of church ministers in supporting Black elders.

"This collaboration between two of the state's leading institutions of higher education has been highly successful, both in fostering the next generation of minority research scientists and in bringing a higher level of health to the state's older minority population," Jackson says.

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