UGA disability research inspires wellness course

March 30, 2012

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Athens, Ga. - For the past nine years, researchers and students in UGA's Exercise Vascular Biology Laboratory have studied how exercise of paralyzed muscles-made possible by electrical stimulation-reduces risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, similar to the benefits of exercise in the muscles of able-bodied individuals.

Now, those researchers are encouraging UGA students to help individuals with disabilities through new wellness courses that partner able-bodied preclinical undergraduate and graduate students with disabled participants. The people with disabilities will benefit from students' projects, and in return, the students will gain valuable clinical experience.

According to Kevin McCully, a professor in the College of Education's department of kinesiology who runs the lab and spearheaded development of the course, the course is a model partnership between students and patients that "might end up changing the way we do our pre-clinical education on campus."

"We see our relationship with research participants as an equal partnership," he said.

"A very important spinoff of the study," said McCully, "is our relationship with the Shepherd Center, where we now partner our undergraduate students and graduate students with people who are paralyzed."

McCully's class is in the process of recruiting participants from other organizations, too, such as Extra Special People, a non-profit organization geared toward people with developmental disabilities, and Athens Power Dawgz, a competitive soccer team of men and women afflicted with paralysis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

According to UGA's Institute of Human Development and Disability, the combined effects of disability and obesity cost the United States $44 billion each year. Due to inactivity, adults with disabilities are 58 percent more likely to be obese than their able-bodied counterparts.

The course-which aims to cover and address these issues-will debut this summer for students studying kinesiology and nutrition. But ultimately, McCully and his team hope to see the course grow into an interdisciplinary experience for students in more diverse academic fields-from physical therapy to environmental design.

"Students from the environmental design department, for example, could take the course and have a project developing an environment for people with disabilities to stimulate physical activities," said Zoe Young, a first-year doctoral student who has worked in McCully's lab since 2008.

"A lot of preclinical students need this kind of experience to amp up their resumes," said Melissa Erickson, a second-year master's student in exercise physiology who started working in McCully's lab in 2009.

"Instead of just job-shadowing a physician or other professional, they'd really be able to get into the community, get their hands in there," she said.

Erickson and Young, who both helped develop the course, foresee students developing the same kinds of skills and sensitivity they've developed as students working in the Exercise Vascular Biology Laboratory.

"It's interesting to get an idea of a different group of people who need help and to see what kinds of problems they have and how I can use my tools and my skills to move forward addressing those problems," said Erickson.

Because the course is aimed at students from diverse areas of study, McCully and his assistants anticipate a variety of student projects.

"For example, students from the exercise science department may plan an exercise intervention for participants with disabilities, while students from the nutrition department may seek ways to promote healthier eating and weight control," said Young.

Whatever a student's academic focus, McCully believes people from all disciplines can make a difference in the lives of those with limited mobility.

"This is a population that we need to help, be involved with, use our student body to help, and to conduct more research as to how we can improve the quality of their lives" said McCully.

Students enrolling in this split-level course, Current Problems in Kinesiology, must obtain permission from the instructor to enroll. Prospective students may contact McCully, Erickson or Young at mccully@uga.edu, melissa9@uga.edu, or zoey@uga.edu, respectively.

 

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