The psychiatry of ethnicity and age
Brooklyn is now a hub of research in ethnogerontology, "an
umbrella name for assorted activities involving minority aging,"
explains Carl Cohen, M.D., professor of psychiatry and chief
of SUNY Downstate's Division of Geriatric Psychiatry.
He and Carol Magai, Ph.D., a psychologist at Long Island University,
are working to establish a Center for Ethnic Studies to better
define how the interplay of culture and age affects mental health.
Drs. Cohen and Magai were recently awarded a $540,000 Career
Leadership Award from the National Institute on Aging to support
"We're unique because we're dedicated to examining how
cultural differences influence the aging process," says
Dr. Magai. This is an important public health issue for Brooklyn,
since the borough's fastest-growing adult group is the ethnic
population over 65.
"Our aim is to develop research related to older minority
persons, for whom almost no data exist on mental disorders, like
schizophrenia," adds Dr. Cohen. Because psychiatric research
seldom includes minorities, he believes the work of the Center
for Ethnic Studies will have important implications for the mental
health and well-being of the black community, locally and nationally.
"Our ability to tap into often-ignored differences within
the African-American community is very unusual. Between American-
and Caribbean-born blacks, we can sometimes identify what's genetic
versus social in etiology," says Dr. Cohen.
The Center will work in tandem with Downstate's clinical program,
the Brooklyn Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Center, which has
a patient base that is largely black and Latino. It will also
incorporate research from projects such as the nearly completed
five-year study of depression and anxiety among African-American
residents 55 and older, conducted by Drs. Cohen and Magai with
funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and the
New York State Department of Health. Senior faculty, such as
Suzanne Mirra, M.D., Downstate's new chair of pathology who is
nationally known for her work on Alzheimer's, will support the
centers activities by running seminars and mentoring graduate
students and faculty, as well as conducting research.
The interdisciplinary National Institute of Aging grant will
expand faculty training at both institutions. Dr. Magai hopes
to attract master's degree students in psychology and offer research
preceptorships to faculty members interested in aging. A summer
institute will offer courses and certification in aging, ethnogerontology,
and delivery of culturally sensitive health care.
Dr. Carl Cohen, chief of geriatric psychiatry, has
received a $540,000 grant to study minority aging.
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