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APHA 2018—Health Equity Now

Every year, the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting draws leaders and innovators in public health to exchange views on and celebrate the latest trends and best practices in the field.

This year, Bloomberg School affiliates will gather with colleagues from across the country in San Diego, Calif., November 10–14. The conference theme, "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now," addresses barriers that individuals and communities face to attaining their optimal health. Presenters will share their research and discuss strategies for identifying and removing these barriers and measuring progress in reducing health disparities.

See all Bloomberg School presenters


Vanya JonesAmong the presenters is Vanya Jones, PhD ’06, MPH, assistant professor in Health, Behavior and Society and core faculty member with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, who will discuss her research on the quality of life of older adults.

Jones’s research focuses on the thorny issue of older adults and transportation. Driving is an important mode of transportation in the U.S.—but at what point should this privilege be reconsidered? Diminishing physical and mental capabilities typical of aging, such as vision and strength, are common factors in discussions about driving cessation. Jones emphasizes cognitive processing—“how we put all of our driving skills together to operate a motor vehicle safely, especially under pressure”—as a key factor in determining driving ability.

Jones is also interested in what happens when older adults stop driving: What resources are available to ensure they’re still able to get around? How important are alternate modes of transportation to overall quality of life?

Jones will present research based on data culled from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers study of about 3,000 drivers ages 65–79 across Maryland, New York, Michigan, Colorado and California. She found that while 89 percent of older drivers had at least one alternate source of transportation, that source was likely to be a friend or family member—not an ideal solution, according to Jones.

“While very helpful,” she says, “this can threaten dynamics of relationships and the feeling of being a burden.”

To ease the transition, Jones recommends that older drivers begin to supplement their own driving with alternate sources other than a friend or family member so those options are already in place when it’s time to hand over the keys. But there are two major factors associated with finding reliable alternate transportation sources: prior experiences and attitude.

Alternate sources can be difficult to rely on. Public transportation like trains and buses may not run on time or may require older adults to wait on busy intersections, exposed to the weather. 

“An older driver with cognitive decline, reduced vision, or increased fragility may be reluctant to use this form of transportation,” Jones says. “There may be barriers—such as busy or hard-to-read timetables—which impact confidence in being able to navigate the source successfully.”

In addition, alternate sources of transportation that are available to older drivers vary by state, and more research is needed to know how just how accessible they are to older adults.

Jones’s research underscores the conference’s “Health Equity Now” theme: Convenient, user-friendly transportation is vital for older adults to access their communities, services and health care.

“Millions of Americans, regardless of age, do not obtain health care because of the lack of transportation,” Jones says. “For older adults who stop driving, using other forms of transportation could ameliorate lack of health care access.”

Jones joins a cadre of Bloomberg School presenters tackling health equity from myriad research fronts. “I look forward to seeing, hearing and experiencing the cutting edge of public health training, research and practice in beautiful San Diego,” she says.

Megan Latshaw, PhD, assistant scientist in Environmental Health and Engineering, will receive APHA’s Environment Section’s Distinguished Service Award for noteworthy and important contributions to environmental health. Watch for Latshaw’s Instagram takeover at APHA on November 12!

APHA Alumni Reception