“Fall Prevention in ASL-Using Deaf Older Adults,” a study proposed by a group of Gallaudet faculty, has just received an R15 grant from the National Institutes of Health for $397,076. The project, supported by the National Institute of Aging under award number R15AG087454-01, is led by Dr. Chizuko Tamaki, AuD program director in the School of Human Services and Sciences, Dr. Carol Cutler Riddick, a professor in Physical Education and Recreation (PER) with extensive credentials and experience working with older adults, and Dr. Janis Cole, a Deaf researcher/translator with a background in social work, Deaf/Cultural Studies, and linguistics. The team also includes Vanessa Arp, a Deaf member of the PER who among other responsibilities teaches an Adapted PER course.

“What happens among Deaf individuals as they age has not been studied much,” says Tamaki, who notes that falling is a serious health concern for everyone as they age. Injuries can lead to costly hospital visits, a loss of independence, and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that older, Deaf adults are more likely to fall than their hearing counterparts. That makes it critical to figure out how to develop and deliver programs that enhance the balance of older Deaf adults in order to avoid falling.

Tamaki adds that there are many unexplored elements of these falls to consider. For instance, some causes of hearing loss also affect the vestibular organs, which are located in the ear and tell the body where it is in space. What is the impact of this life-long or nearly life-long vestibular deficit in older adults? There are also likely differences in how Deaf individuals experience age-related sensory loss, and how they are able to access resources and information. 

The project will have two main goals. The first is to understand the needs of the Deaf aging community. Researchers will interview Deaf adults over the age of 60 about their experiences with fall incidences, knowledge about fall-related resources, and experiences accessing exercise services/programs in their communities. Small focus groups of Deaf older adults will discuss possible fall prevention strategies. 

Woman with short gray hair and glasses
Dr. Carol Cutler Riddick, a professor in Physical Education and Recreation, has extensive experience working with older adults. At the top, Dr. Chizuko Tamaki, AuD program director in the School of Human Services and Sciences, helps a student present preliminary research on balance among older Deaf adults.

The second goal is to determine the feasibility and efficacy of a Deaf-centric exercise/recreation program. A balance-focused exercise/recreation program will be piloted four times, delivered in  ASL to 10 deaf older adults, through 8-week sessions that will be offered beginning fall 2024. 

R15 grants are designed to support meritorious research, strengthen the research environment of the institution, and expose students to research through mentored opportunities. The design of this study will give students from the PER, Linguistics, and Audiology programs the chance to be heavily involved in this groundbreaking research.

Undergraduate seniors majoring in PER will lead the exercise sessions after undergoing an intensive orientation with a PER faculty member. Riddick points out that this a wonderful example of experiential learning since PER majors will be able to apply knowledge and skills they have acquired in course work to a real-world setting. She hopes that some of the students involved in the project will be turned onto undertaking research and subsequently go on to earn a doctorate. Riddick notes that there is a paucity of research conducted on Deaf adults as well as a profound shortage of Deaf researchers engaged in collaborative research teams. 

Woman with very short gray hair and glasses poses with one hand propped under her chin
Dr. Janis Cole, a Deaf researcher/translator with a background in social work, Deaf/Cultural Studies, and linguistics, hopes to find strategies that will improve balance among older Deaf adults.

The results of this study — including the qualitative feedback, exercise program adherence rate, perceived benefits, and improvements in physical fitness and quality of life among the participants — will be an important first step toward understanding the feasibility of replicating such programs. This culturally informed work can help shape the future design of fall preventative care for the Deaf population. “As I age as a Deaf person, I recognize the impact that balance has on my well-being,” Cole says. “I believe this study would greatly benefit Deaf individuals in learning self-care strategies for achieving balance.”

This is the third R15 grant for Gallaudet faculty. Dr. Poorna Kushalnagar, Strategic Research Officer, and Dr. Tugba Kucukkal, Associate Professor of Chemistry, have both received grants through the R15 Academic Research Enhancement Award for Undergraduate-Focused Institutions. The “Fall Prevention in ASL-Using Deaf Older Adults” award is through the Research Enhancement Award Program for Health Professional Schools and Graduate Schools.

For more information about this grant, including how to join the balance exercise program starting in fall 2024 and continuing until spring 2026, contact

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