Family Caregiving Institute leader envisions expanding research

Ladson Hinton with another man in a chair
Ladson Hinton, right, associate director for research at the Family Caregiving Institute, conducting home interviews as part of his research project.

America’s long-term care crisis has been decades in the making. The COVID-19 pandemic shone a spotlight that can no longer be ignored.

While the country figures out a balance between having people age in long-term care facilities and age at home, studies show the overwhelming majority of people want to age in a comfortable, familiar setting, such as their homes. To do so, they need comprehensive health care so they age healthy.

Thanks to the Family Caregiving Institute, the future for geriatric health care in the United States and beyond looks brighter. Just ask physician, researcher and social scientist Ladson Hinton.

“Establishing the Family Caregiving Institute at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing brought attention to the important role of family caregivers and support of older, frail adults who are dependent and need involvement of family members. This brings real attention to the needs of caregivers and how to best support them,” said Hinton, associate director for research at the institute.

This much-needed attention on family caregivers now leads to improved health services for older adults at UC Davis with the launch of the UC Davis Healthy Aging Clinic, a collaboration of UC Davis Health, along with the medical and nursing schools as well as the Family Caregiving Institute.

“I’ve been here more than 20 years and this is by far the most important initiative in care for older adults in our health care system,” Hinton said. “UC Davis Health has made a substantial investment in this care. The commitment by the two deans and the vice chancellor makes this a wonderful convergence and consensus of importance.”

Over the course of his two decades at UC Davis, Hinton’s research focused on the cultural and social dimensions of late life depression and dementia-related illness and caregiving experiences among older adults and their families. Today, Hinton emphasizes the value of interprofessional research and the mentoring of junior faculty.

In 2012, Hinton led the development of the UC Davis Health Latino Aging Research Resource Center, which is one of seven National-Institutes-of-Health (NIH)-funded Resource Center for Minority Aging Research. A key goal of the center is to support researchers who seek to develop impactful and community-engaged research addressing Latino cognitive health and aging.

“A major focus is to help and support junior faculty and move them into the field and working directly with Latino populations,” Hinton said.

Hinton continues that focus at the Family Caregiving Institute as he helps lead the institute’s research efforts and bring the interprofessional team together through the organization of quarterly research meetings, supporting work in progress and mentoring junior faculty, such as assistant professors Julie Bidwell and Fawn Cothran. Additionally, Hinton plays a role in the institute’s search for senior faculty to join the research team.

Ladson Hinton on a scooter
Ladson Hinton en route to conduct an intervention in the field in Sóc Sõn, a semi-rural district in Hanoi. Many of the homes are accessible only by motorcycle or on foot.

In his own research, Hinton shifts his efforts to a global impact. Thanks to a $15,000 UC Davis Global Affairs Seed Grant for International Activities, with matching funds from both the School of Medicine and School of Nursing, Hinton strengthened partnerships with key institutions and stakeholders in Vietnam, leading to $3 million in grant funding from the NIH National Institute on Aging to research Alzheimer’s and family caregiving within Vietnam’s rapidly aging population.

The partnership with Vietnamese stakeholders partly stems from Hinton’s 2018 participation in the country’s first National Dementia Conference with then School of Nursing Dean Heather M. Young. Hinton believes the growth of this partnership with Vietnamese researchers could lead to other meaningful partnerships as well.

“I continue to promote more global work, with research to help countries with capacity building. Our new partners in Vietnam now look to build a national geriatric hospital and there’s interest in a family caregiving institute, too,” Hinton explained.

His vision for a global impact on caregiving research, Hinton said, will further the need to support the growing number of family caregivers both in the U.S. and throughout the world as more countries see growing populations of older adults and their caregivers.

“The work that we’re doing in Vietnam may have beneficial implications for interventions to support Vietnamese family caregivers in the U.S., so there’s a real bidirectional flow of information and knowledge from the global back to our local area.”