Senior Lifting Weights

Mother inspires research that revolutionizes the care of seniors

September 1, 2015

The Texas heat was no excuse according to Esther Rose who walked regularly in the mall with her friends before the stores opened to minimize this common exercise barrier. Even towards the end of her life when a fall necessitated the use of a walker, Ms. Rose worked out regularly with a personal trainer until a few months before she died at age 93.

Little did Esther Rose know her life choices would inspire over 30 years of research by one of today’s leading international researchers on healthy aging and community-based prevention and wellness programs, Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia G. Ory, Ph.D., of the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. As Esther Rose’s youngest daughter, Ory considers her mom one of her greatest role models.

“Mom’s positive choices as she grew older spurred my interest in studying the factors that influence the adoption and maintenance of healthy lifestyles. I observed many concrete examples where behavior change research could be translated into practice,” Ory said.

For example, accompanying her mother to doctor’s appointments spurred Ory’s research in primary care and how individuals communicate with their doctors. When Esther Rose was told by her doctor to stop driving at age 85 and she had no other way to get around, Ory recognized the context in which people live is key to behavior change leading to further research in community-based interventions.

Ory’s work has revolutionized the care of seniors through applied prevention research beginning at the National Institute on Aging where she directed the Social Science Research on Aging program, to her current position as distinguished professor and associate dean of research at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

Her most recent effort was serving as co-editor of the latest Research Topic in the international journal Frontiers in Public Health. She recently presented key findings from the publication on improving the lives of older adults through evidenced-based programming with co-editor Matthew Lee Smith, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia College of Public Health, at the National Council on Aging Chronic Disease Self-Management Education and Falls Prevention Resource Center Meeting, designated a White House Conference on Aging event.

The volume of approximately 35 peer-reviewed articles and 25 commentaries reflects clearly that in the not-too-distant past, what it meant to grow older in our society has rapidly begun to change. “Healthy Aging” is no longer a misnomer, with recent statistics indicating over 300,000 seniors throughout the U.S. engaging in health promotion and disease prevention programs sponsored by the Administration for Community Living since 2010.

“With demographers warning us about the ‘gray tsunami’ – the increasing numbers of older adults – approaching our global doorstep, it is our hope that researchers, practitioners and policy makers will use this information to better work together to understand how to help the rapidly increasing number of older adults achieve optimal health and well-being,” Ory said.

In addition to making substantial contributions to identifying factors associated with healthy aging as well as implementing and disseminating evidence-based programs for improving the health and functioning of older adults, Ory continues to work collaboratively with a variety of community, state and national partners to advance the science of public health translational research. She has authored or co-authored 10 edited books, 40 book chapters, served as guest editor for 20 journal issues and published over 350 articles. Additionally, she generates more than $1 million annually in expenditures for research and service. She is also known for her excellence in mentoring the next generation of scholars and practitioners.

It is no wonder Ory received last year the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Aging and Public Health Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

“Her record speaks for itself, and we feel that her amazing accomplishments exemplify what this award represents,” states Lene Levy-Storms, Ph.D., M.P.H, past-chair of the Aging and Public Health Section.

Though Lifetime Achievement Awards often indicate one is in the sunset of their career, Ory is far from that. After all she is quick to point out that “I am my mother’s daughter.”

Ory serves as director of the school’s Program on Healthy Aging and co-director of the Health Technology and Patient Empowerment initiative, an area of growing interest in the development of novel technologies for patient screening, diagnosis and intervention. As chair of the Texas Falls Prevention Coalition, she is leading research efforts to identify those at highest risk of falls and examine the effectiveness of different evidence-based programs for fall prevention.

While promoting healthy aging among seniors is her current passion, she has a life-course perspective, recognizing the importance of a life-long intervention approach that considers environmental and technological solutions that make it easier for people of all ages to engage in healthy lifestyles.

“My mom’s example of a positive, healthy lifestyle continues to propel me to research how others might throughout their entire lifespan be encouraged to do the same.”



— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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