A UConn researcher will explore why older people lose muscle function and how to counteract it through specific exercise, nutrition, and therapeutic interventions, thanks to a gift from a generous alum.
Jacob Earp, an assistant professor of kinesiology, will develop a diagnostic tool to test and monitor loss of muscle function and develop ways to improve and maintain muscle function so that aging adults can maintain their quality of life.
Earp will work with a multidisciplinary team of three other University professors at the UConn Pepper Center, which focuses on research to enhance the independence of older adults.
Earp’s research is funded by a generous gift from Kathy Cameron ’87 (PHARM) and her late husband, Tony Young, a disability advocate. Cameron says the research will build upon her life’s work to help people maintain their function and independence as they age. She serves as the senior director of the Center for Healthy Aging at the National Council on Aging in Washington, D.C.
“What attracted me to providing this contribution to the Pepper Center is the seminal work they’re doing in helping people age well,” she says. “It’s really, really important and I’m glad that we can support some of this work.”
Earp is grateful for Cameron’s gift and devotion to the field.
“Kathy has already given to the field in a lot of different ways. It’s amazing that she’s now in the position to fuel future research to advance the field,” Earp says.
Cameron’s interest in aging began shortly after graduating from UConn when she became a pharmacist in rural Maine. She quickly discovered that most of her customers were either older adults or their caregivers.
“I really loved talking with those folks and hearing about the challenges they were having with their medications and helping them out,” she says. “Many of them had chronic conditions that were challenging and expensive to treat.”
“It was really there that I cemented my interest in aging, and I have worked in the field ever since,” she says. “I did my thesis on medication use as a risk factor for older adult falls. That was amazing because I continue to work in the field of falls prevention to this very day with the work that we lead at the National Council on Aging.”
She hopes that Earp’s research will lead to practical ways to help older adults so they can continue leading active lives.
“Some of these findings will contribute to the knowledge we have currently to improve the physical function of older adults and their ability to live a healthy life,” she says. “This will impact all aspects of their lives, including their mental health, their emotional health, and their spiritual health.”
There is a tremendous interest in the field of aging, particularly in Connecticut, which has a large older population, says George A. Kuchel, Professor of Medicine and Travelers Chair in Gerontology and Director of the UConn Center on Aging. The Pepper Center’s team-based, multi-disciplinary approach is critical to making advances in the field, he says.
“What makes Kathy’s gift special is that she has this commitment to multidisciplinary research in aging,” Kuchel says. “She has worked in the area of aging for some time and her area of interest has to do with falls prevention. She understands that the only way to make progress in aging—whether it’s clinical care, education, or research—is through team-based approaches.”
In addition to her research gift to the University, Cameron gives back by mentoring UConn students through a leadership program at the School of Pharmacy.
“My message to alumni is: if you received a good education and have been successful in your career, mentoring is something simple that UConn alumni can do for current students,” she says. “I don’t think we have enough mentors out there to help students with their educational journey and to help them think about the many opportunities they may have in their majors.”