Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

Gaining perspective on aging

Written by Laylah Liwaru, BS candidate, University of Missouri – Kansas City, and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

In the Summer Research Program-Aging & Neurological Diseases Track, I have had the opportunity to learn about neurological diseases from the perspective of a physician, a researcher, a patient, a family member, and a policy maker.

A few weeks ago, we heard from Jordan Amar, MD about stroke neurology. He talked about the pathology of strokes. Most are caused by a clot in the brain and are diagnosed by doing a physical exam. These physical symptoms can also tell you where the stroke is located. From there, there are multiple levels of care these patients undergo.

Next, we heard from Catherine Lang, PT, PhD, FAPTA on stroke rehabilitation and all the strides that are happening in physical and occupational therapy. She spoke about accelerometry, and how it’s being used to track physical activity of patients to improve their daily life. This type of intervention is a convenient and economical way to develop individualized rehab for patients with neurological conditions.

To learn more about the experiences of these patients, my cohort participated in an “empathic exercise.” We were given materials to simulate neurological diseases associated with aging and sent out as a group to complete a task on campus. I was given a pair of glasses that blocked out my left peripheral vision and a sling that immobilized my left arm to simulate symptoms of a stroke. As we moved across campus, I found I relied heavily on my team members to get to our destination. I tripped on multiple times, almost ran into a pole, and knocked over several items. I can’t imagine taking a simple walk like that without assistance. It really puts into perspective how much independence can be lost.

We also watched a play called, “Brain Works: The Theater of Neuroscience”. In the performance, a retired judge struggles with various stages of Alzheimer’s disease while her granddaughter, Deena attempts to juggle being a college student and a caretaker. As the play progresses, you see how taxing this becomes for Deena. She didn’t anticipate taking on this role and finds it difficult to weather her tumultuous circumstances. This play highlights the plight of family caregivers and how much more support we need to be able to offer them.

After discovering the effect these diseases have on our society, we learned about advocacy from Carroll Rodriguez, former senior vice president of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Missouri Chapter. She spoke on several initiatives she’s been a part of to bring about laws that have improved the lives of the aging community and their families. We also learned how we can be a part of that change by meeting with our state legislators, holding listening sessions, and recruiting others. We’ve learned so much from so many people, and it just goes to show how there is a place for everyone in this conversation. whether you’re a doctor, physical therapist, loved one, or the patient, we all have a part to play. I feel so privileged to have gained such a comprehensive understanding of the world of neurological diseases.