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Life of the Mind lecture explores aging, quality of life

By Leslie King | Emory Report | March 18, 2015

“Lessons My Parents Taught Me: An Emory Aging Expert Reflects” is the title of the Life of the Mind lecture on Wednesday, March 25, at 4 p.m. It will be followed by a Faculty Salon at 5 p.m. Both events will be held in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library and are free and open to the public.

The lecture will be given by Theodore Johnson II, professor of medicine and epidemiology, chair of the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, and director of the Emory Center for Health in Aging.

He will discuss ongoing research on sustaining function and quality-of-life experiences as people age. Among his topics: general aging, frailty, decision-making around aggressive medical care, and technology as a tool for seniors.

Johnson says his podcast on “A New Look at Old Age” would be good background information for his talk.

Regarding frailty, Johnson says, “There are still robust debates on frailty, even this month, whether at national scientific meetings or even at The Emory Clinic leadership meetings.

“We’ve known since 1994 that a good percentage of accidental falls in the elderly can be prevented with medication adjustment, strengthening exercises, and home modifications,” he continues. “Yet it is unlikely that an older adult had a meaningful assessment of fall risk followed by a detailed plan for improving safety. In 2011, Medicare began paying providers to do these types of assessment, yet many fewer than expected have done so.”

Notes Johnson, “With my own mother and her aging story, accidental falls were one of the most serious risks to her being able to live in her own home alone. And she hid these falls from me, until I saw her in person. It’s complicated.”

Johnson explains that doctors have long kept track of what diseases patients have and what medications they take, but he wants to bring in information from the public health field that has not been widely collected or used in clinical care. “What we need to ask our patients about frailty and function are different,” he says. “How strong are you? How fast is your usual walking speed? Do you feel as though you have a great deal of energy? Can you climb a flight of stairs?

“This type of information has long been known to predict important clinical outcomes, such as death, hospitalization, admission to a nursing home, falling, and more functional dependence, for example.”

The Faculty Salon, held following the Life of the Mind lecture, is the first time this has been connected with another event on campus, somewhat in the spirit of the Coalition of the Liberal Arts’ idea of intellectual tailgating, according to Rhonda Mullen in the Office of the Provost.

The salons offer informal gatherings where faculty can swap ideas, learn what others are doing, and interact with colleagues across the university.