CEAH Newsletter April 2021

Director’s Welcome

Spring is in the air, and it feels great! I finished preparing my vegetable garden beds last weekend. I’ve decided to make 2021 the year of kale and pole beans. I will be planting four varieties of kale (Dwarf Blue Curled, Lacinato Dinosaur, Siberian Dwarf, Russian Red) and Fortex beans. If I were in St. Louis, now, I would have the seeds in the ground already. I’ve learned to take it slower here in Maine. The time will come!

Not to stretch a metaphor, but directing a university-wide center is like managing a vegetable garden. Each season (semester) has its own tasks. Patience and planning are important. Some crops (projects) flourish, whereas others present opportunities to learn and try again. I learned last year that I have perfect soil and sun conditions for kale, for example. It makes sense to grow and enjoy it again.

Unlike a garden, the CEAH involves seeds planted at different times and a much longer growing season. The first seed for the Legacy Scholars Program was planted in October, 2018. Our Scholars number 528 today! How many more will be enrolled in 2025? Another seed planted in January, 2021, is our Living Tapestries Project (link to flyer). This is just starting to grow, but holds much promise. I will say more about this in our next newsletter.

Sometimes you only know how far you’ve come when you take a moment to look back. We have come a long way as a Center at UNE and as a partner and friend in Maine. We owe our success to our Scholars and other friends across the region. Thank you! Let’s continue to grow together.

Tom Meuser
PhD, Director, CEAH

News from Regi

This has been my dream job working with Tom, Kelly, Joe, and all of you at the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health! I have lived my passion over the past couple of years, so for that I thank you all. Some of you may have heard that I am retiring—if I could have continued at the CEAH on a part-time basis (and just given up Zoom teaching) I would have jumped at the chance, but perhaps due to the pandemic, this was not meant to be.

So, my next chapter of life at the end of the semester will involve my husband Steve and I getting into our little motor home and heading to Texas to meet our first grandchild, Elka, who is already 8 months old. We can hardly wait to kiss her and hug her (along with her parents, too). After our adventure, I can imagine me flunking retirement, because one way or another I want to continue working with and for older adults. Therefore, although you may not see me as often, you cannot get rid of me that easily. I am thrilled to be a new board member of Portland Area Villages (a not-for-profit dedicated to supporting aging in place), and I am excited to see what other ventures life has in store for me. Again, I share my wholehearted gratitude to all of you for enriching my life. Let’s do keep in touch! Email Regi.

UPCOMING PROGRAMMING

Peer Connections

Peer Connections has been a cornerstone of our online community over the past year. It is a place to come to feel relaxed and encouraged during this period of isolation.

The CEAH is thankful to have had MSW students facilitating each week. April 20 at 1:30pm will be the last session lead by Molly and Bobby. We invite those of you who have enjoyed your time spent with them to come and celebrate their dedication to Peer Connections. Zoom Link

Now that the summer months are soon to be upon us, we encourage you to find other ways of connection outside. With vaccinations in full swing and the warmer temps approaching it is a great time to meet up with friends for a walk or just conversation.

Peer Connections Online will continue once a month, May – August. Our own Joe Wolfberg and COM student, Madeline Egan, will be leading the group. May 18 & June 22 @ 1:30pm are already scheduled. Stay tuned for dates in July & August.

In-Person Art Gallery Tour

We are pleased to announce our first in-person event for Legacy Scholars for 2021!

Vaccinated Scholars and their significant others are invited to a special tour of the UNE Art Gallery, Portland Campus, on Saturday, May 8th.

Gallery and Exhibitions Director, Hilary Irons, will speak about works from two current exhibits.

We will offer up to 5 small group tours with the following start times on Saturday, May 8th (Sunday, May 9th, Rain Date): 10:00 AM, 11:00 AM, 1:00 PM, 2:00 PM, & 3:00 PM.

Each tour will be limited to 18 guests to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Masks must be worn at all times. Register for your preferred times via the link below. You will receive parking and gathering instructions once registered.

*** PLEASE NOTE: Each guest must complete and submit a COVID 19 Visitor Declaration. Please print, review and complete this form, and then bring it with you on May 8th. We will have extra copies available that day should you forget to bring it. This form is time sensitive. If you wish to submit it early, you may do so only on Friday, May 7th, and send a scanned copy as an email attachment to Tom or Kelly.

Register HERE.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Occupational therapy students are still recruiting participants for three surveys!

If you would like to take any of these or know someone who fits our criteria, we would appreciate your help.

Thank you! Regi Robnett & her students

Technology & Aging
Quality of Life in Assisted Living
Changes in Daily Life Due to Covid

LEGACY SCHOLARS

Tell Your Friends

We want to thank you for being a Legacy Scholar. You are a member of an interesting and interested group of older adults, and through your volunteering and by filling out your health and wellness survey every year, you are helping us to learn more about healthful aging. Right now we have on-going studies on cognition and aging, technology and loneliness, assisted living, occupational losses due to COVID, and …we have a favor to ask.

As we emerge together from the pandemic, now is a great time to form new relationships to promote healthful aging in Maine and beyond. Our Legacy Scholars are our best ambassadors for this work. Do you have a friend, neighbor or family member who might like to join us? If so, please tell them about the Legacy Scholars program and how to get involved. Here is a link to the FLYER you can share. You can also direct them to our WEBPAGE. Thank you for spreading the word!

RESEARCH UPDATE

Report from Cognitive Aging Study

Have you noticed that it is harder to learn names or other new material at your present age? Do you sometimes forget an item from your shopping list? Have you ever forgotten where you parked your car? If you answered “yes” to any of these, I would say that you are experiencing a subjective cognitive complaint (SCC). Subjective does not mean without truth in this case. It refers to a perception rather than an established fact. The latter might be called an objective cognitive complaint (OCC).

Many aging adults experience SCCs. The brain is impacted by aging like other organs and bodily systems. It is said that our brains are at their peak efficiency at age 30. If that’s true, I must be way down now at age 57. Not! Some cognitive functions, such as use of vocabulary, improve with age, whereas others suffer minor decrements over time. The normal aging brain retains all the functional capacity necessary for independent living and creative engagement. SCCs often reflect small changes that have no bearing on functional integrity.

This is not always the case, however. SCCs also occur when a disease process, such as that associated with Alzheimer or Parkinson disease, is present. SCCs may be normal or could indicate a red flag for something that needs further medical evaluation. SCCs in this case may be found to be OCCs. Cognitive testing may reveal true deficits that are more than the minor irritations evident in normal aging.

Differentiating between SCCs and OCCs is often challenging, even for experts. Few primary care clinicians would claim expertise in this area. This makes early diagnosis and treatment of common brain diseases difficult. This is especially true for conditions like Alzheimer disease (AD) which lack a simple, definitive test. AD is usually diagnosed from a pattern of SCCs that extends for months (or longer) and are eventually found to be OCCs upon specialized evaluation.

Since most aging adults experience SCCs, will most also be subject to AD or another neurological condition? The short answer is no. Advancing age is a risk factor for AD. The average 65 year old faces a ~5% risk, whereas the average 85 year old may face an up to ~30% risk. Many factors come into play, as all persons and environments are different.

As a psychologist, I have always been interested in developing tests which can differentiate persons from one another. I love the study of personality, for example. Another area where I have a lot of experience is in cognitive aging. Right now, forty of our Legacy Scholars are helping me in a study about SCCs and OCCs. The goal is to understand that context of SCCs in the lives of community-dwelling older adults and their relationship to risk for conditions like AD.

Everyone in this study has completed a first round of interviews and cognitive testing via Zoom, and we are now inviting a subset back for follow-up sessions to learn a bit more. A report of at least two SCCs was required for entry. Each participated in six tests designed to identify potential OCCs.

The early results are interesting, but not definitive. A sample of 40 is good, but usually not large enough to make sweeping generalizations. I am already envisioning a grant application to evaluate 200 or more in the future. Here’s what we have learned so far:

The screening test we used to identify SCCs works well to target persons at risk when identified in hospital and clinical settings (i.e., where people are sick or reporting major problems) but less well in community-dwelling older persons. The test has a high false positive rate for this latter population, in other words.
SCCs flagged by this screening test do not translate to potential OCCs in this study. Less than 20% of participants appear to fall into a risk category, and many knew or suspected this already. Most labeled as at risk turned out not to be when tested. This is what a high false positive rate looks like in practice. Had the result been 60% or more, the story would be different and I might argue the test should be used more widely. Now, I am not so sure.
There are other facets of the study I cannot talk about right now. We are still collecting additional data. And the analysis phase will run through much of the summer.

What I can say, however, is that this grant funded study is a great example of the metaphor from my Director’s Message above. The seed was planted when our LSP Annual Survey was first conceived. I included a screening measure for SCCs without a clear idea of what we’d learn. As our sample grew, it became clear that a study to differentiate SCCs from OCCs was both possible and important. Clinicians need better ways to recognize when a disease process is at work, make a diagnosis, and initiate treatment. That’s what this study is about, and our Legacy Scholars are making it possible! That’s something to celebrate!

OUR EXTERNAL PARTNERS

We are proud to collaborate with many wonderful individuals and organizations in Maine and beyond. Here are just a few. Click to learn more.

Institute for Integrative Aging, Saint Joseph’s College

Westbrook Housing Authority

The Park Danforth

The Cedars

Portland Area Villages

Housing Initiatives of New England

Motherhouse at Baxter Woods

Ignation Volunteer Corps

The Foundation for Art & Healing

UMaine Center for Aging

UCONN International Center for Life Story Innovations & Practice

UML Center for Gerontology Research & Partnerships

Maine Senor Games