Federal Grant Benefits UML Asthma Study

Lowell Sun
01/31/2014


LOWELL -- UMass Lowell has been awarded a $750,000 federal grant for research toward a goal of reducing episodes of asthma among senior citizens living in Lowell public housing.

Studies show asthma is under-diagnosed among seniors and that asthma-related deaths among the elderly are increasing.

Lowell is the "ideal area" to do such a study because health statistics show its adult asthma rate is 10.4 percent, higher than the state average of 8.1 percent, according to David Turcotte, director of the Lowell Healthy Homes program, which is operated by UMass Lowell's Center for Community Research and Engagement.

Seniors, who spend about 90 percent of their time in their homes, are more likely to suffer from asthma by breathing in dust mites, mold and toxic cleaning solutions that can trigger attacks, Turcotte noted.

The goal of the study is to measure the health and cost-effectiveness of providing the elderly in Lowell public housing with interventions such as educational materials, mattress and pillow covers, green cleaning supplies, HEPA vacuum cleaners, and pest-control items.

The researchers will collect data on the selected seniors' symptoms, medication use, and emergency-room visits.

They will also conduct "home environmental assessments" in the seniors' residences, by testing dust samples, measuring nitrogen dioxide and cigarette-smoke exposure, and then recommending improvements.

After one year, the team will evaluate the impact of the interventions on indoor-air quality, asthma-trigger activities, respiratory health and seniors' quality of life.

"Since there is very little research on how asthma interventions could help elders, this study will document the effectiveness of a multi-faceted approach to prevent asthma-related deaths and sickness among this vulnerable population," Turcotte said.

The work is being funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carrying out the study will be a team of UMass Lowell researchers, led by Turcotte and Work Environment Professor Susan Woskie, in a partnership with the Lowell Housing Authority and Lowell Community Health Center providing access to the target population of low- to moderate-income public housing residents who are senior citizens.