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If an ounce is prevention is worth a pound of cure, how valuable is knowing what happens in the wake of sickness?

Published: June 24 2008

Elena Andresen

Professor and Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
College of Public Health and Health Professions

If an ounce is prevention is worth a pound of cure, how valuable is knowing what happens in the wake of sickness?

That’s what Elena Andresen wants to find out.

Epidemiologists study the factors that affect the health of individuals and populations in an effort to influence preventive health-care policy. But what happens after someone gets sick? What are the long-term consequences of disability and chronic illness? Those are questions that Andresen, a professor and chairwoman of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, hopes to answer.

“I care about why people get sick,” Andresen said. “That’s typical of epidemiologists, but I also find myself drawn to the question of what happens next, what are the health outcomes and quality of life, rather than the causes of illness.”

Andresen is among a handful of epidemiologists who are studying disability and rehabilitation, and her expertise landed her a spot on the Institute of Medicine’s prestigious Committee on Disability in America. The committee is charged with examining the gaps in disability science and recommending actions to reduce the impact of disability on individuals and society.

Andresen, whose research is largely funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also is a member of the International Society for Quality of Life Research.

“Our group develops measurements for use in clinical trials and population research to predict quality of life outcomes in much more personal ways,” she said. “So, for example, instead of saying that therapy has improved function in a patient’s left knee, we look at it from the patient’s perspective. Has the patient’s quality of life improved? If not, then perhaps we should look at other therapies for the patient instead of focusing on the left knee.”

In addition, Andresen is working on several studies examining the challenges for people who provide home care for family members with disability.

“Through my research I’d like to determine how to intervene to make sure that quality of life and access to care are equal for everyone,” Andresen said. “We’re not there yet, but we are working on it.”

Photo credit: Ray Carson — University Photography
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