WVU Professor Awarded $600K NIH Grant to Study Physical Disability Among Rural American Indian Elders

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Understanding racial differences and the experiences of people with disabilities can yield valuable information on how to reduce the health disparities experienced by some of our nation’s elders and improve their access to needed health care.

R. Turner Goins, Ph.D., associate director for research at the West Virginia University Center on Aging and associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine at the WVU Robert C Byrd Health Sciences Center, has been awarded a five-year $605,029 research and training grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging.  The grant is to identify racial differences in physical disabilities and care needs among rural elderly American Indians compared to their Caucasian counterparts.  The main goal of this award is for Dr. Goins to establish an independent research program that addresses physical disability and long-term care needs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. 

 “There are two major components of this grant. One component is a research project where I will examine physical disability among American Indian elders. The second component will sponsor additional training for me in the areas of disability theory, statistical analyses, and American Indian and Alaska Native culture,” Dr. Goins said. “Understanding physical disability among American Indians is critical. Recent studies have found that disability is decreasing among older adults, yet these gains in physical ability are not evenly distributed across functional abilities or among the older adults themselves.

“Studies that have examined racial/ethnic disability trends suggest that minorities are experiencing greater decline in physical disability compared to whites. Although physical disability is declining for some minority elders, these individuals continue to experience a higher prevalence of disability than do same-aged whites. One minority group that is greatly underrepresented in the research on disability is older American Indians.” 

The research will involve in-person interviews with 400 rural American Indian and Caucasian older adults. Information collected from the individual interviews will explore racial differences in functional disability as well as differences in risk factors for disability. The study will also determine if there are unmet long-term care needs in both racial groups. 

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Goins. The award of this grant represents recognition of her work by the NIH, and is a major career achievement,” said Richard Ham, M.D., director of the WVU Center on Aging. “Her intellectual enthusiasm and her commitment to American Indian and rural elder issues, and the work she has already done, have secured prominence for her in the study of these areas of great need. Her work will assist in ultimately fixing the disparities we know to be present. I am thrilled that she has received such a prestigious award.”

In addition to her research on American Indian and Alaska Native elderly, Goins teaches courses in gerontology at WVU.  She was recently appointed by the Johnson & Johnson/Rosalyn Carter Institute Caregivers Program to its advisory panel of ten national experts on caregiving.

The WVU Center on Aging is part of the WVU Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center.  The Center on Aging works, through research, education, clinical service and technology, to improve the health, well-being and security of older people and those who care for them in West Virginia and across the nation.

For more information, contact the WVU Center on Aging at (304) 293-2968 or visit www.ruralaging.org.

- WVU -

For more information:
Maria Durbin, 304-293-2968

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