Speaking for the voiceless

March 30, 2017
Older couple.

Two converging demographic shifts pose a great challenge to our health system, our economy, and our communities.

The number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is expected to double by 2030. And by 2050, the percentage of Asians and Hispanics over 65 in the U.S. will triple. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that 70 percent of these Americans over the age of 65 will need long-term care.

This challenge drives the research of Tetyana Shippee, an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. She seeks to answer the question: How can we make care toward the end of life a more positive experience, regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture?

So far, most research has focused mainly on quality of care. Shippee focuses on quality of life—everything from residents’ interactions with staff to friendships among residents.

“If you lose your hearing, you can’t partake in games,” Shippee says, “and if you lose your ability to chew, you can’t go to dinner. Things like this have a huge impact on someone’s outlook on life.”

The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) interviews nearly 15,000 nursing home residents every year about their quality of life. Residents have been sampled randomly, and very few have been from minority populations.

Shippee is working with DHS to change that. Starting in 2015, minority residents have been “over-sampled” for interviews and for the first time have been interviewed in languages other than English. The new data will enable Shippee to identify quality-of-life measures within minority groups and determine how facilities can help these residents.

“Minnesota is ranked first in the nation for quality of life and quality of care on the AARP scorecard for long-term care,” she says, “and one reason is the investment in this survey and the close collaboration between DHS and the University.”