Nursing Assistant Professor Ladda Thiamwong works with elderly patients and tackles one of the most pressing issues facing this population: the mental and physical instability surrounding life-threatening falls.
With the help of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, Thiamwong has developed a treatment regiment for aging patients, which assesses not only their physical abilities but their perceptions about falling.
It’s a holistic approach she began investigating 15 years ago as a nurse in Thailand and which she has now continued at UCF. The National Institutes of Aging awarded her a $149,000 grant in September 2020 to study this phenomena during the course of two years.
She has developed an assessment tool that uses portable sensors to monitor a patient’s physical activity. At the same time, she administers a survey to gauge the patient’s beliefs about their likelihood of falling.
Gauging a patient’s physical ability as well as mental processes gives her a better grasp on how to shape a patient’s treatment plan, which best prevents their falling. Much research conducted in this field looks primarily to physical indicators of a patient’s body, but for many patients this is not the only factor that shapes their perception on how likely they are to fall.
“Patients often live in fear of falling and will withdraw from their day-to-day activities because of it,” she says. “Perception and physical functionality work together with this issue.”
While the physical assessment indicates the likelihood of a patient falling, it points out where the patient’s own concerns or lack thereof may not match up to their actual physical abilities.
Thiamwong hopes to serve poor elderly communities in particular through this research, as she has seen the ways in which poverty leads to lack of proper medical attention.
Understanding the aging population’s mental state is critical for good care, she says. That’s why she is so passionate about her study and properly training the next generation of nurses to look at the the bigger picture of a patient’s wellbeing.
“I don’t want to just bring about new technology,” says Thiamwong. “I want to increase the respect of the knowledge and history of the elderly population and the role they can play in their health.”
The inspiration for Thiamwong is her own mother, a woman who has always encouraged her to rise to the challenge. Despite lacking access to education, her mother has always pushed Thiamwong to never take no for an answer. She has taken this in stride and was the first in her family to graduate from college and move to a new country. Being a woman has presented many professional challenges.
“I had to fight for what I have,” she says. “As a woman it is possible to be a leader if you have a firm grasp on what you want to do and show others that you can do it.”
Her work has been recognized both in the academic world through grants and in her ability to mentor and teach. In 2019 she received UCF’s Excellence in Research Award and the following year she received the Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award.
“I try to do the best that I can,” she says. “UCF has provided me with a lot of opportunities to learn but I had to choose to work hard and now I can say I have made the best of those opportunities.”