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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

URI gerontology professor selected to participate in
$1.4 million Canadian study of ‘dependent’ adults

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 3, 2003 -- The director of the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center at the University of Rhode Island has been selected to participate in a $1.4 (U.S.) million study of contributions made by senior citizens and others viewed by society as "dependent" adults.

Phillip G. Clark, professor of gerontology at URI, is a co-leader of one of the four themes of the research project, which is being led by the University of Alberta and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Other researchers are from the United Kingston, Australia and the Netherlands.

The initiative, which will also challenge traditional ideas about who should be considered "dependent" and how community services can help them, was announced last week in Edmonton, Canada.

"We need to think differently about productivity and independence," said Janet Fast, professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta and the leader of the project. "For starters, we are defining productive activity as anything that earns or saves money or that helps others. We next need to take a hard look at the invisible contributions made by those who aren’t in the paid workforce, especially by people with physical or intellectual disabilities and those who have retired."

Clark’s area of research will examine costs and contributions of "dependent" adults in social, political, historic and cultural contexts. His work will examine the perceptions of such individuals from the perspective of ethical theory and as informed by research studies and public policy documents.

"Our thematic group is also charged with helping to ensure that all of the different disciplines working on this project work in a collaborative manner," said the West Kingston resident. "Our group tends to be associated with the humanities, history, English, political science and ethics and values. So we’ll be looking at the differences between Canada and the United States and we’ll be looking at human values and the roles of culture gender."

Clark will analyze previous research done on systems in place for the aging and disabled. "I will be examining government documents and academic research. I’ll also be looking at home care differences between the U.S. and Canada."

The other three research areas are making explicit the hidden costs of care, recognizing the contributions of dependent adults, and assessing the impact of public policies on both costs and contributions.

"This grant is designed to quantify the contributions of so-called dependent adults," Clark said. "These individuals may not work, but they are making major contributions as volunteers. We also want to understand the cost of care for the family. Governments often say that care should be the responsibility of the family, but then there is little or no support. We also want to look at the effect on women as the primary care givers."

The goal of the project is to influence public policy. "While policymakers often consider the costs of supporting adults with chronic illness or disability, they seldom think of the contributions those same adults make to our society," according to the University of Alberta release issued in late March. "It is hoped that decision-makers will use the team’s findings to expand their understanding of contributions, and their approach to creating entitlements to benefits and services."

Clark, who has been awarded $5.75 million from federal agencies for gerontology studies in the United States, said he believes he was selected for the Canadian study because his work on ethics and public policy has been widely distributed there.

"Phil Clark is a noted and accomplished researcher, one of the truly outstanding individuals in gerontology," said W. Lynn McKinney, dean of URI’s College of Human Science and Services, which houses the gerontology program. "His participation in this important work underscores his international reputation."

For a digital image of Clark and his team, please call Nancy Gillespie at 874-2116.

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