A number of years ago, while making house calls as a nurse practitioner to homebound, low-income elderly patients in West Baltimore, Sarah Szanton noticed that their environmental challenges were often as pressing as their health challenges. Since then she has developed a program of research at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing on the role of the environment and stressors in health disparities in older adults, particularly those trying to “age in place” or stay out of a nursing home. The result is a program called CAPABLE, which combines handyman services with nursing and occupational therapy to improve mobility, reduce disability, and decrease healthcare costs. She is currently examining the program's effectiveness through grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Innovations Office at the Center on Medicaid and Medicare Services. She is also conducting a study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, of whether food and energy assistance improve health outcomes for low-income older adults. A former health policy advocate, Dr. Szanton aims her research and publications toward changing policy for older adults and their families.
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Very small changes can make a big difference. We're not saying, 'What's your blood pressure?' We're focusing on function: What do they want to do?