Project Helps Fight the Life-Threatening Disease

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Research study to help prevent asthma-related deaths and sickness among the elderly.

By Karen Angelo

Building on the success of the childhood asthma prevention program, the University’s Healthy Homes Program is now targeting senior citizens who live in Lowell public housing. 

Studies show that asthma-related morbidity and mortality among the elderly is increasing. 

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

The study will measure the effectiveness of 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 for the elderly living in Lowell public housing. The work is being funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be managed by UMass Lowell. 

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 triggers, respiratory health and quality of life. 

“Since there is very little research on how in-home 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,” says 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, which provide access to low- to moderate-income public housing residents who are senior citizens. 

Past Project Showed Significant Improvements for Children 

This program builds upon previous research conducted by UMass Lowell researchers on asthmatic children living in Lowell public housing. The results of that research 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.