Background: As the U.S. population grows older, supporting healthy aging becomes even more important. The number of people aged 65 and older will reach nearly 81 million by 2040, which is more than twice as many as in 2000. Improving healthcare for older adults will help more people maintain their abilities, independence, and quality of life.
Involving older adults in research leads to more effective ways to support their health. Yet, researchers often do not involve them. Many research teams lack the community partnerships, resources, and stakeholder engagement skills to benefit from the guidance of older adult advisors.
Proposed Solution to the Problem: This project will support healthy aging by showing that older adult advisors can improve health research—and by making it easy for researchers to collaborate with older adults to discuss study design, important outcomes, recruitment, and retention of older persons in these studies. Further, engaging healthcare stakeholders (e.g., patients, providers) is a critical component to improving care delivery and health outcomes and is in alignment with PCOR/CER priorities and mission.
Objectives: Both an urban Board of Older Adult Advisors (BOAA) and a rural BOAA will be created. BOAA members will have an interest in health issues and receive training to provide feedback on research plans. Each BOAA will meet every other month with a researcher, who will bring specific questions to the group. While the BOAAs will provide guidance on a range of questions, the groups will focus on research designed to improve healthcare for older adults, increase their involvement in health decisions, and make care more responsive to their needs and priorities.
The two BOAAs will reflect different life experiences and health needs. In Wisconsin, older adults in rural areas and older people of color in urban areas often have worse health outcomes. To address these disparities, one BOAA will include lower-income residents of rural Iowa County. The other will include lower-income people of color from the city of Madison.
Activities: The project team will work with the NewBridge senior services agency and Lussier Community Education Center in Madison, and the Iowa County Veterans Service Office and Aging and Disability Resource Center of Southwest Wisconsin to recruit older adults. Each BOAA will have ten members. Consistent with stakeholder engagement principles, the team will work with BOAA members to establish each group’s mission, community agreement, and meeting processes. Co-creating the meeting processes promotes shared control, affirms members’ perspectives, and promotes deeper involvement of BOAA members.
Health researchers at the University of Wisconsin (UW)–Madison will be engaged and prepared to meet with the BOAAs. Older adult health, health disparities, and rural health are priority research areas at UW–Madison. The extensive network at UW–Madison, including the Center for Aging Research and Education, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR), Marshfield Clinical Research Institute, and ICTR- Community Academic Partnerships, provides access to numerous researchers conducting PCOR/CER research. These researchers would benefit from the ability to access and work with the BOAAS.
Following meetings, BOAA members and researchers will be asked how meetings could be improved. For this project to be successful and sustainable, all participants must benefit from meetings.
Projected Outcomes and Outputs: Resources that could be used by researchers at other institutions will be developed. These will include recruiting strategies and materials developed for older adults from different geographic and racial/ethnic communities, BOAA meeting processes, examples of how BOAA guidance impacted health research plans, and lessons learned from BOAA members’ and researchers’ perspectives. These will be included in a project dissemination toolkit, walking researchers through the approach and outlining different ways to increase their engagement of older adults.
Patient and Stakeholder Engagement Plan: Throughout project planning and implementation, older adults, community partners, and health researchers have been engaged and consulted. The team will work with rural and urban community groups to reach older adults and recruit BOAA members. Health researchers will become involved through campus networks, including the UW–Madison Institute on Aging, Center for Demography of Health and Aging, Center for Health Disparities Research, and the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research.
Project Collaborators: This project will be led by the UW–Madison School of Nursing’s Center for Aging Research and Education, with involvement throughout from the Wisconsin Network for Research Support.