Spotlight on Faculty: Jacqueline Angel

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Jacqueline Angel Dr. Jacqueline Angel, Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, studies trends in aging among the Mexican-American elderly population. One of her key findings is that the Mexican-American elderly population is half as likely as other aging populations in the United States to use nursing homes despite suffering from higher rates of functional dependency than other ethnic groups.

Frail and disabled elderly Mexican Americans resist the use of formal long-term care services not only because of a cultural preference of families to keep a loved one at home but also because they are unable to afford nursing home care. The high value placed on family in Mexican culture contributes to an increased probability of home-based care.

"Many Mexican-Americans don't qualify for Medicaid because of immigration issues," says Angel, "and so they are unable to afford nursing homes. In addition, this population often prefers to live with their families. But living with family is not always possible. One major problem with the current state of elderly care is our tendency as a society to over-romanticize the capacity of the family to care for their elderly."

There are a number of reasons why living with family is often not an option. Families tend to have fewer children these days and many adult children choose to move away from their parents for jobs or spouses. Also, since the 1960s, cultural preferences have changed and many Americans have inculcated a taste for independence, leaving their aging parents dependent on outside sources for care giving.

"Healthful aging requires a balancing act," Angel explains. "As a society we must honor the wishes and expectations of the aging, while being realistic about the ability of others to help. It's important for families to talk about this subject. One of the most meaningful gifts aging adults can give to their families is to set their end-of-life plans in order and communicate this information to their loved ones. But for them to have affordable, appealing options for their end-of-life care, we need more organizations to help, and more widespread participation in this process."

The driving impulse behind much of Angel's research is the need to more effectively understand how the families of the elderly can plan for their future. She has written many books, journal articles, and essays on the issues surrounding aging and the elderly.. She has served as past Board President of Family Eldercare, as well as on several advisory committees. For years Angel has done research for The National Institute for the Aging, where she is in charge of demographic studies involving immigration.

One of Angel's most recent contributions to the better understanding of aging is a computer-based tool that asks a series of questions in order to identify the needs of an aging person for long-term care giving. Angel created this program with funding from a Texas Comptroller Grant and with the help of her graduate students. In working on this and other related projects, Angel's students have the opportunity to work on a real policy research problem that needs resolution and in doing so they learn how to work in teams to manage a project, and how to compile, analyze, and present data.

"I am incredibly excited to have so many smart, committed students at UT, who are so eager to be involved in improving the lives of seniors for years to come. Caring for the elderly is a contract with every generation of the young -- it is imperative for each generation to participate. My students have already seen results from the work they've done to promote healthful aging. I hope that this work keeps inspiring these students to put their ideas into practice."

Q & A by Elisabeth McKetta
May, 2008
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