Healthy Homes Program Receives $750K Grant for Asthma Research

Project Will Help Senior Citizens in Public Housing Breathe Easier

01/29/2014


Media contacts: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell has been awarded a $750,000 grant to reduce episodes of asthma among senior citizens living in Lowell public housing. 

Studies show that asthma is under-diagnosed among senior citizens and that asthma-related morbidity and mortality among the elderly is increasing. 

“The city of Lowell is an ideal area for our study since the prevalence of asthma among adults is 10.4 percent, higher than the state average of 8.1 percent,” said David Turcotte, director of the Lowell Healthy Homes program, which is operated through UMass Lowell’s Center for Community Research and Engagement. “Seniors in particular spend 90 percent of their time in their homes, breathing in dust mites, mold and toxic cleaning solutions that can trigger asthma attacks.”

The goal of the study is to measure the 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 to improve health and reduce medical costs. 

The researchers will collect health data – symptoms, medication use, emergency room visits – on approximately 90 senior citizens with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease before any interventions. After conducting a home environmental assessment that includes testing dust samples, measuring nitrogen dioxide and evaluating cigarette smoke exposure, the research team will recommend improvements to residents. After one year, the team will evaluate the impact of the interventions on indoor air quality, asthma trigger activities, respiratory health and quality of life. The work is being funded by the $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be managed by UMass Lowell.

“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,” said Turcotte.

To carry out the study, UMass Lowell researchers – led by Turcotte and Work Environment Prof. Susan Woskie – are partnering with the Lowell Housing Authority and the Lowell Community Health Center, both of which provide ease of access to the target population of low- to moderate-income public housing residents who are senior citizens. 

This program builds upon previous research conducted by UMass Lowell researchers on asthmatic children living in Lowell public housing. The results of that program showed a dramatic improvement in the health and well-being of the children. Asthma attacks decreased by 76 percent, hospital emergency room visits decreased by 79 percent and the physical and emotional health of the children improved substantially.

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