Convergence Day focuses on issues of aging

By Deborah Wormser

First-year students from UT Southwestern Medical Center’s three schools came together on Convergence Day this year to discuss a family case study in aging-related medical problems and to engage in broader dialogue about aging issues.

Dr. Craig Rubin, Director of the Mildred Wyatt and Ivor P. Wold Center for Geriatric Care, served as Convergence Day Director for Aging. This year’s theme served as a nod to the world’s 50 million baby boomers and was designed to help prepare students to care for the aging world population in coming years.

The Aging Knowledge Bowl proved extremely competitive at Convergence Day as students pitted their groups against each other in a show of, well, knowledge. The team in the foreground includes (from left) graduate student Cara Spanel-Weber, first-year medical student Grant Potter, and School of Health Professions student Elizabeth Ficks.

Throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, students in each school met to discuss the same case study: a fictional family similar to those seen daily by many in the medical community. The hypothetical family was made up of an 87-year-old woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, her equally aged husband scrambling to provide care, and their 65-year-old daughter, who is enrolled with her mother in a study at UT Southwestern.

The year-long program included visits by some very special volunteers – geriatric patients and their families – whose perspectives on their experience with the medical community drove home the interdisciplinary curriculum in ways no textbook could achieve, said Dr. Kristine Kamm, Professor of Physiology and Director of Convergence.

All those lessons and students came together when small interdisciplinary groups met to reflect on their year and to discuss strategies to respond to the crisis that unfolds for the case-study family when the wife falls and needs medical attention. One question they pondered: How will care team members help the family through the decisions necessary to ensure the well-being of the Alzheimer’s patient and of the other family members?

More Live Coverage of Convergence Day

Check out another article we posted on Convergence Day.

Throughout the process, students could study posters featuring campus research related to aging; visit booths on balance, nutrition, and pathology; and enjoy an Aging Knowledge Bowl game that pitted student teams against each other as students in the auditorium cheered them on.

The event ended with a keynote address by Dr. Nir Barzilai, Director of the Institute for Aging Research and primary investigator of the Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Dr. Barzilai spoke on some interesting characteristics he has found in his studies of hundreds of people past age 95 and their children, such as good cholesterol profiles despite poor diets. The hope is that this research will lead to new treatments for those who lack longevity genes, he said.

Next year’s Convergence Day theme will be genetic diseases, and it will be led by Dr. Helen Hobbs, Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development. Previous topics were cancer in 2010 and obesity/ metabolism in 2011.

This year’s event was sponsored, in part, by the Southwestern Aging and Geriatrics Education program under an award from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. The event also received support from the UT Southwestern Alzheimer’s Disease Center