GATHER Lab Research Initiatives

Addressing Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) in Older Populations

Social determinants of health (SDoH) are nonmedical factors like economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, food, community and social context, and the healthcare system, which have significant effects on health outcomes. We are involved in a number of projects that investigate the influence of SDoH on individuals’ ability to obtain services, prevent unnecessary hospitalizations, and age in place. We have also established strong research partnerships with community organizations, medical centers, and health care clinics that provide assistance to vulnerable populations (e.g., older individuals with functional and financial need, those living in more rural communities). Findings from this work have strong implications for preventive health initiatives to reduce the risks associated with having unmet SDoH.

Aging Families and Aging Policy

We recognize that aging is not just an individual experience, but affects families, communities, and societies. In several lines of research, we have worked to understand the experiences of family caregivers and the intergenerational relationships between adult children and their aging parents; we are also involved in understanding elder abuse within family contexts. In addition, we collaborate with local, state, and national policy-makers to inform aging policies.

Death Education

In addition to increased longevity and an aging population, the global COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on death, dying, and grief. In response, we lead several projects focused on addressing end-of-life inequities and enhancing access to quality death education for medical students and future health and human services providers. The aims of this research are to establish best practices in normalizing death education, identify evidence-based educational interventions in death and dying, and prepare students who will be confronted with death and grief as a regular part of their future careers. Additional projects focus on assessing attitudes and anxiety about end-of-life and increasing knowledge about advance care planning, coping with loss, grief, and mental health. The GATHER Lab has a partnership with the WSU Health Sciences campus and holds advisory positions for medical students involved in end-of-life research.

Lifespan Implications of COVID-19

We are currently investigating the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic on health behaviors and perceptions of loss, death, and grief. This work leverages longitudinal, mixed method data to assess perceived differences in social engagement and health behaviors across distinct developmental stages, drawing implications for targeted intervention to address the anticipated detrimental impacts on long-term health and wellbeing long-term consequences of the pandemic. We are also exploring how people are experiencing, coping with grief, and interpreting loss during the pandemic (e.g., changes in employment, ageism, and exacerbated racial and class inequities).

Optimal Aging Initiatives & Preparing for an Aging Society

We promote optimal aging, or the ability to adapt and function as well as possible (physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally), in spite of one’s medical conditions. This research line entails projects that help individuals, families, and communities plan and prepare for their own aging trajectories and future needs, as well as preparing a multidisciplinary geriatric workforce to support optimal aging in their clients/patients and to ensure high quality of services and care for older adults. There is currently unparalleled demand and sense of urgency for generating and training more gerontology/geriatric professionals as well as implementing and evaluating rigorous, evidence-based programs that promote healthy aging. Many of our projects in this line of research also aim to disrupt negative aging narratives and stereotypes and promote a strengths-based approach to health and aging.