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The Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging

Anna Faul, PhD

■ MD-Update It’s been almost two years since we spoke. What’s been going on at the Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging?

Over the past two years, we have expanded and matured our efforts to create a society where aging is viewed as an opportunity, not a disease. During this time, we have moved into the implementation and evaluation phases on many of our grants and studies and diversified our programmatic offerings to ensure relevancy and increasing reach. We have also cultivated many essential partnerships that align with our mission of creating collaborative community networks of research, education, innovation, and practice. We have also led and supported a variety of advocacy initiatives in the areas of optimal aging, Alzheimer’s disease awareness, age-friendly cities, and veteran-friendly services.

■ The Institute has four pillars of focus: Research, Innovation, Education, and Best Practices. Before taking them one at a time, can you start by defining what optimal aging is?

At the Institute, we believe that optimal aging is the ability to flourish throughout one’s life. At a community level, optimal aging is having intergenerational, compassionate communities that have all the resources available for people to lead physically, socially, and emotionally healthy lives from birth to death. At the individual level, optimal aging means you are able to live each day to the fullest, despite any aging-related challenges you might face.

■ What are the research areas that the Institute is exploring? Clinical trials? What are the opportunities for translational research?

We are a recipient two HRSA Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Programs, which we call our Flourish Network. With these grants, we study the effectiveness of our Flourish Model of Care – an innovative way of approaching the holistic health of a person, including physical, emotional, and environmental health. We are excited to expand this model to more practices and increase the behavioral health component of this model in the coming months. The educational component of the Flourish Network has particularly strong results in connecting isolated older adults with the resources they need to age optimally.

■ Have you been able to develop any new products or services that can be taken to the marketplace and put into use? Are there any partnerships with Kentucky design or engineering firms?

We have been working with several local product innovators and researchers to develop devices that promote health and independent living for older adults. We have also supported electrical engineering capstone projects through the Speed School of Engineering at U of L. For example, a smart toilet that can weigh frail older adults to track weight loss, as well as reminder devices for older adults with cognitive impairment to do basic tasks alone at home. More broadly, innovation infuses all that we do – from our new mentorship capacity to health professionals in remote areas through the ECHO program to our care coordination and practice transformation.

■ September was officially Optimal Aging Month in Louisville. How did it go?

This year’s Optimal Aging Month, our third at the Institute, was an incredible month filled with awareness-generating activities and educational programs. This year, we challenged everyone to perform intergenerational acts of kindness and to share their stories with us. Our goal was to dismantle generational divides and stereotypes by spreading compassion between generations. It was great to witness older adults and children sharing and learning from each other. We even had two Honorary Optimal Aging Catalysts, Basketball Hall of Fame player Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith and Basketball Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum.

■ Is the Institute still offering student internships in different disciplines?

Our commitment to a transdisciplinary approach is the guiding principle of our student opportunities. In addition to the engineering students I mentioned, we have over 10 social work student placements with the Institute each year and 3-4 geriatric and palliative medicine fellows. We also have interns from pharmacy, nursing, business, and law. We are excited to announce several new behavioral health internships with generous living stipends for psychiatric nurse practitioners (doctoral-level), counseling psychology (master-level), and social work (master-level).

■ Tell us about the Institute’s engagement with area physicians and how you work with primary care practices to make them more aware of geriatric care coordination.

We are deeply involved with primary care practices in both Louisville and the surrounding rural counties, to spread knowledge and skills about quality geriatric care. Through our Flourish Model, we have been able to help rural practices reduce unnecessary costs on high utilization patients while helping practices maximize the new care coordination Medicare billing codes. We are also working on partnering with University of Louisville Physicians on a new project to pilot test the practice transformation potential of the Flourish Model. Our goal is to have primary care practices provide quality geriatric care to older adults in the communities they live in, with mentorship support from geriatricians and other professional experts at the University of Louisville.

■ Closing thoughts?

The past two years have been an incredible journey for the Institute. It is inspiring to see the passion and commitment of our team and our partners to improve the lives of older adults. We have the potential to transform the way we age in Kentucky and we are excited to be at the forefront of the movement. We look forward to continuing to work together with all our partners to make optimal aging a reality for all.

The U of L Institute for Sustainable Health & Optimal Aging was founded in 2014 by the executive vice president for health affairs to create a center on aging that could bring multiple professions together and thrust Louisville into the forefront as a city whose goal is to be “the optimal aging capital in the United States.”

Anna Faul, PhD, is the executive director and driving force. The Institute was profiled in MD-Update, issue #97, in January 2016. We’re checking in with Dr. Faul to get an update on her ambitious goal and accomplishments.