Walk the halls of Bayside Community Center and you’ll hear Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Sudanese. Music from a hula class floats from the rec hall, and an orchestra workshop tunes up. A lively group of seniors is eating lunch and talking, catching up with one another’s lives. There’s Brain Fitness and ESL instruction,after school tutoring, and counseling about personal finance.The 80 year-old settlement house, about five minutes from the University of San Diego, serves the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Linda Vista.
Since 2010, Bayside also has been home to two studies by USD Nursing faculty who practice a model of community-based research that builds collaboration and reciprocity between researchers and participants. Professors Ann Mayo (DNSc ’98) and Karen Skerrett, PhD, have shared their findings with study participants and Bayside staff. This benefits not only participants, but also the Center’s program planning by providing greater understanding of their clients’ health status, and its implications. In her initial meeting with Jorge Riquelme, Bayside’s director, Mayo told him she wanted both the Center and study participants to benefit from their involvement.
At the heart of the Bayside collaboration is USD Nursing professor Connie Curran (MSN ’96) who worked at Bayside, and encouraged Mayo to consider it as a research site. Mayo was eager to study whether screening older adults for cognitive impairment could work in a community setting. Bayside’s ethnically diverse population was particularly attractive to both, because social aspects of aging have been less studied in minority populations, and many question sremain unanswered.
Dr. Mayo studies decision-making, cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and the related dementias in older adults. Like most research in this area, her previous studies were based in academic medical centers, and done largely with middle-class white seniors. For seniors of other ethnic groups, many of them immigrants of modest education and income, a medical center can be a daunting place, and persuading study participants to travel to a medical center a challenge. Working with the Bayside population made recruitment much easier. Mayo expected it would take six months to recruit and assess 100 study participants; she had her sample in two months.
Mayo wanted to assess Bayside seniors’ cognitive status, self-maintenance capacities such as management of finances, ability to prepare balanced meals, negotiate transportation, and degree of social integration or isolation. Working at Bayside enabled her to address her own questions about research design: is it feasible to do screening for cognitive impairment in a community setting? Does understanding the relationship between functional status, cognition, and social integration derived from middle-class white seniors generalize to an ethnically diverse population?
Mayo explained that staff’s knowledge of their population’s strengths and needs helped her refine her research design.
“I’m indebted to Bayside staff,” she said, especially the Center’s director, Jorge Riquelme, and Curran who also are co-investigators.
Prior to recruiting participants, Mayo met with several groups of seniors at the Center to describe her research, and committed to share the findings with them. She stressed that some causes of cognitive impairment are highly responsive to treatment; e.g. anemia, thyroid insufficiency, and vitamin deficiencies. Screening for cognitive impairments could identify such treatable problems, enabling seniors to improve their lives and live independently.
She’s since presented her findings at the Gerontological Society of America 64th Annual Scientific Meeting, and at two meetings at Bayside, to which study participants and the community at large were invited. Her conference research poster hangs prominently at the center.
Payoffs from working in a community setting occurred at every stage of the research:
• Research design: Center staff discussed their most pressing concerns about their older members with the researchers. Both Mayo and Skerrett feel that Bayside staff’s in-depth knowledge of their population improved and focused their research designs.
• Access to study participants: Bayside is a hub of many seniors’ social lives; they trust the Center and its staff. Bayside’s support provided a stamp of approval and Connie Curran’s decades of involvement and relationships at the Center made her a highly effective recruiter. Interviewing and assessments were done at the Center, a comfortable setting for participants.
• Participants’ investment in the studies: Participants understood that findings would be shared with them, and also would help Bayside’s staff develop programs that addressed their needs. They welcomed the opportunity to benefit their Center and their community.
• Bayside as a supporter of research: The Center has been able to present its involvement in the research as an asset to other potential granting agencies.
• Opportunity to give back: In addition to discussing her study findings with staff, Mayo invited study participants and the community at large to a discussion of findings and implications for seniors’ health. Skerrett plans to share her findings with staff and participants later this year.
Skerrett said, “Research should be a two way street. Researchers and participants learn from each other.” She and Mayo, together with the staff and clients of Bayside Community Center, have made that ideal a reality.
— Barbara Davenport
This story first ran in USD Nursing Times 2012 issue.