Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Can USC researchers solve an age-old issue in Cuba?

Can USC researchers solve an age-old issue in Cuba?
Cubans reach out to a USC expert in social support among low-income
minority populations
BY Eric Lindberg MARCH 21, 2017

Cuba is ahead of the curve in Latin America in terms of its increasingly
aging population. (Photo/Pexels)
A plummeting birthrate and scarcity of resources have left Cuba facing a
demographic dilemma.

Within a few decades, experts predict that more than 40 percent of the
Cuban population will be older than 60, according to a New York Times
story, which noted that young couples are increasingly reluctant to have
children, given the average monthly salary of $20. The resulting strain
on Cuba's health care system, not to mention the growing burden on
families and communities, is daunting.

But thanks to a slight thawing of the icy relationship between the
United States and Cuba under the Obama administration, researchers from
the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work might be able to share
some solutions.

"They are very receptive to our work," said Maria Aranda, an associate
professor who holds a joint appointment with the USC Leonard Davis
School of Gerontology. "They understand the demographic shift and their
need for programs that leverage the health care and social sectors.
Because we have experience working with Spanish-speaking communities and
families, we have the needed expertise to be able to mount these
programs in Cuba."

New models tested
An expert in the interplay among chronic illness, social support and
psychological well-being in low-income minority populations, Aranda has
been testing several new models designed to support older adults and
their family members. Cuban officials learned about her work and reached
out to discuss the potential for collaboration.

During a recent conference in Havana, Aranda and other leading experts
in aging from USC and the University of California, Davis discussed
those evidence-based programs and other models that could be replicated
in Cuba.

"As a result of our participation in this international scientific
meeting, we ignited a tremendous amount of interest in geriatric mental
health and family caregiving," she said. "The Cuban government has asked
about three separate programs I have tested or am testing now."

Those models focus on reducing depression among Spanish-speaking Latinos
with medical conditions, increasing the ability of older Latinos to
manage their health care and chronic diseases and improving the
well-being of family members who provide informal care to a loved one
with an injury, illness or disability.

"They are very interested in the models of intervention we are
developing, especially the more complex self-management care models,"
said Provost Professor William Vega, who also serves as the Cleofas and
Victor Ramirez Professor of Practice, Policy, Research and Advocacy for
the Latino Population and executive director of the USC Edward R. Roybal
Institute on Aging. "On the health side, they are trying to be
progressive and take the best ideas they can get from the developed world."

A unique context
Cuba is ahead of the curve in Latin America in terms of its increasingly
aging population. Many other countries in the region are just starting
to experience the consequences of lower birth rates, whereas these
demographic changes have been accelerating in Cuba for decades now.

Vega attributed the island's unique demographic issues to a lack of
resources linked to both the U.S. embargo and political inflexibility.

"Aging places a greater burden on the health care system and families,"
he said. "In the past, families had to do it all, but they are having a
difficult time because they just don't have the resources and space.
They certainly don't have facilities for aging people."

However, loosening governmental restrictions have led to an influx of
tourists and outside investment, Vega said. If that kind of development
continues, Cuba might have the resources needed to expand social and
health programs in the community.

Two-way street
Cuba is already a leader in Latin America in terms of community-based
medicine, pharmacology and physician training, and the USC team is eager
to point out that any collaboration will be mutually beneficial.

"I'm looking forward to understanding what parts of their social
programs are working well and perhaps that can inform the development
and delivery of social programs for older people here," Aranda said.

"Sharing ideas with us for our low-income communities is critical," Vega
added. "We have no real answers right now. We have a really fragmented
system and nothing coming out of the federal government in terms of
models or financing to deal with this."

To encourage further interaction, Vega and Aranda extended an invitation
to Cuban health officials to attend a conference at USC in September on
aging in the Americas. They are also waiting for clearance from Cuban
leaders to conduct trainings and share materials related to
evidence-based support models for older Latino adults.

Political uncertainty
Looming over these discussions is the unpredictable political atmosphere
in both Cuba and the United States, Vega acknowledged, especially given
the contentious approach of the Trump administration toward Latin
America. However, he expressed hope that the relationship between the
two countries will continue to improve, allowing scientific partnerships
to move forward.

"At this point, it is a question of the stability of the situation and
what kind of aperture we have for continuing to work in Cuba," Vega
said. "This is a pregnant moment right now."

If initial efforts to exchange knowledge are successful, Aranda said she
is also interested in designing a research component to test the
effectiveness of various interventions in Cuba.

"We do understand there should be cultural, linguistic and political
adaptation of these programs," she said. "I'm curious how Cuban culture
can shape and improve these models."

Source: Can USC researchers solve an age-old issue in Cuba? | USC News -

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