Kessler Foundation Marks Minority Health Month with Advances in Rehabilitation Research
WEST ORANGE, N.J.—In recognition of April as Minority Health Month, researchers at Kessler Foundation highlighted their research aimed at improving outcomes for people from minority populations who are disabled by injury or disease. Researchers study health disparities between populations and look at the relationships between cultural and socioeconomic factors on recovery, quality of life, community participation, employment and other factors.
“At Kessler Foundation, we study how to improve quality of life for individuals from all races and cultures,” said John DeLuca, Ph.D., vice president for Research and Training. “We also focus on ways to enroll more people from minority groups in research studies. Having greater diversity in our study populations means our findings apply to more people with disabilities.”
As one of eight centers in the U.S. with dual model systems standard of care in spinal cord injury (SCI) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), Kessler Foundation researchers follow individuals across various races, cultures, ethnicities and socioeconomic communities from the point of injury throughout their lives. Model systems are funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and form a national comprehensive system of care, research, education and dissemination aimed at improving quality of life for people with specific disabilities.
Research scientists Anthony Lequerica, Ph.D., and Denise Krch, Ph.D., are studying the best ways to evaluate quality of life among the Hispanic population and the factors influencing employment post-injury. While 77 percent of Hispanic individuals are employed prior to their injuries, only 27.8 percent are employed one year following their TBI. Factors influencing employment include pre-injury employment and education, cause of the injury, Glasgow Coma Scale at emergency admission, associated SCI, days of amnesia, vocational scores at rehabilitation discharge, Functional Independence Measure cognitive and motor scores at rehabilitation discharge, days in acute care and days in rehabilitation care. Drs. Krch and Lequerica plan to test the efficacy of a culturally tailored treatment intervention for Hispanics with memory impairment after TBI.
While analyzing rehabilitation outcomes for individuals in minority groups is a priority, Dr. Krch also examines the best ways to train a culturally competent research staff for recruiting and retaining research participants from various backgrounds. Her goal is to address health disparities by promoting the inclusion of individuals from minority groups in rehabilitation research to ensure that the findings of clinical studies are appropriate for all populations. At the 2012 Race, Ethnicity and Disabilities State of the Science Conference, Dr. Krch and Lawanda Ford-Johnson, Psy.D., postdoctoral fellow, joined a national faculty of multidisciplinary experts. Dr. Krch lectured on Training Culturally Competent Staff:” and “Culturally-Sensitive Interventions in Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation.” Dr. Ford-Johnson, spoke on “Bridging the Gap between Lab and Community: Successful Recruitment and Retention” and “Neurological Disorders Affecting the Black Community.”
TBI researchers recently analyzed demographic factors that are associated with rehabilitation progress after TBI. They found that even after controlling for injury severity and age, other factors such as education level and income at the time of injury showed significant relationships with patient progress in rehabilitation. It is possible that education and income are associated with a complex set of variables indicative of socioeconomic status. Gaining a better understanding of how these demographic factors interact can better equip medical professionals to help each person as he or she recovers.
Similarly, research scientists Amanda Botticello, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Denise Fyffe, Ph.D., are studying how demographic factors influence recovery in individuals with SCI. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Dr. Botticello a grant to study the role of environmental factors in rehabilitation outcomes(4R00HD065957-03). Using the NIDRR-funded National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center Database, she will analyze what community factors—such as lack of resources, socioeconomic disadvantage and physical inaccessibility—put individuals at a greater risk for health problems, functional decline and social isolation after SCI. Identifying obstacles to successful long-term rehabilitation may influence public policy.
Dr. Fyffe is currently studying the impact of culture on perceived health-related quality of life among children and young adults with disabilities, a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases. She also received a grant from the Center for Rehabilitation Research Using Large Data Sets to pilot a project, entitled “Predictors of Functional Disparities among Individuals Living with Spinal Cord Injury.” She is investigating social, cultural and clinical factors associated with poor functional outcomes in people with SCI.
At the mid-year conference of the American Psychological Association, Drs. Fyffe and Lequerica discussed Clinical and Research Perspectives on Cultural Issues in Rehabilitation. They addressed health disparities in brain injury and spinal cord injury and how minorities are often at greater risk for injury and less likely to receive quality care due to a variety of socioeconomic and cultural factors. Minorities are also less likely to seek treatment after injury because of poorer health education or decreased awareness of risk factors, mistrust of medical professionals, or lack of health insurance. They also discussed how a culturally sensitive approach could ensure maximum adherence and likelihood of follow-up leading to improved rehabilitation outcomes.
About Kessler Foundation
Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. For more information, visit KesslerFoundation.org.