I think, therefore I SUPPORT
Meet Senior Specialist Prof. Suzanne Meeks, Aging & Mental Health Researcher in Psychological & Brain Sciences.
Prof. Meeks’ research focuses on mental health in late life, and her primary research focus for the past eight years has been developing and testing a behavioral intervention for depression in nursing homes. This work is embedded in a program of research that involves investigating the nature of depression and anxiety in later life.
She is also interested in other facets of mental health in long-term care, and her students are involved in investigations of anxiety, sleep, medication prescribing, depression, and grief as they pertain to medically-ill and cognitively-impaired older adults. She is currently working on a prospective study of long-term care admissions to look at predictors of well-being.
In this Q&A, we learn that aging is about a lot more than gray hair and joint pain, and that you can study the past and be excited about the future.
Department: Chair,Psychological & Brain Sciences
Years at UofL: 28
Current Research Interests:
Broadly, my research focuses on mental health in long-term care settings, especially nursing homes. The last decade I have been focused on funded research that involves testing a new intervention for depression in nursing homes. The intervention, BE-ACTIV, is a behavioral, pleasant-events based intervention that is implemented collaboratively with nursing home staff. I have just submitted a new grant proposal for dissemination/implementation research for BE-ACTIV.
We have also just completed a three-year, NIH-funded pilot of a longitudinal study of psychological, social, and biological predictors of well-being in long-term care. We collected diagnostic, personality, social, and biological specimen data from newly-admitted nursing home residents. We plan to write a new proposal for continuation of this research in the winter of 2016.
This year I’m also working on a National Endowment for the Arts project on theatre audience engagement and well-being in partnership with Prof. Russ Vanderbroucke (Theatre Arts) and Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.
The theme of all of this work is how positive affect and engagement are key elements in promoting well-being.
How is society’s treatment of the aging and elderly changing? Why?
Society is becoming increasingly old in the sense that, as the baby boomers age, “older adults” encompass an increasingly large proportion of the overall population. Thus what used to be a pyramid of age with lots of babies and young people and very few older people at the beginning of the 20th century is now becoming a column, which more equal numbers across generations. Now marketers, health care providers, and governments all have to account for a much stronger presence in the older and “old old” (over age 80) groups – too many to ignore!
We are still a youth-focused society in many ways, but I think things are getting easier in terms of accessibility and communication.
Is society evolving to support optimal aging? It is not yet clear, but trends in health care are not promising. Just as a small example, Medicare will pay for all kinds of high tech medical procedures, but not for hearing aids or dentures. Few will benefit from the high tech medical procedures, but millions would benefit from hearing aids and dentures: what is more fundamental to quality of life than hearing conversations around you and being able to eat?
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in your work?
In my research, I have very specific goals that appear in my grant proposals that have to do with understanding the "way things work," and the more general goal of improving the lives of older adults in nursing homes through bringing useful interventions to the hands of mental health providers.
In my undergraduate teaching, my goal is to help students develop a critical attitude toward the world of information so that they can sort through it for what makes sense and what doesn't. In my graduate teaching, I want to help produce well-educated geropsychologists who have a solid grounding in science and are also skilled at clinical services for older adults.
Current events undergraduates should know about?
Undergraduates should know about what is going on in their worlds, big and small. We are all connected.
What was the best meal you’ve ever had? Why?
No idea. I love good food, but by my age one has so many memorable meals it would be impossible to isolate one. What makes a memorable meal is good company.
If you could live in any other time, when might that be? Why?
I can't imagine living in another time -- I try to live in the present while appreciating history and looking forward to things to come. Our time has its challenges and its benefits, as does every moment in time. I cherish things from the past – works of art and literature, antique furniture, customs and manners – but I also am excited about what every new generation may create.