The MIT AgeLab hosted a virtual presentation as part of its ongoing speaker series titled Aging and Equity from Charles Senteio, professor of Health Infomatics at Rutgers University and a 2020 – 2021 Martin Luther King visiting professor at MIT. The speaker series aims to amplify researchers, advocates, and practitioners from different disciplinary backgrounds who are working to understand the realities of historically excluded and underserved communities in the context of aging.
Dr. Senteio’s research involves investigating the use of existing and emerging technology to support underserved patients and communities, which include those formerly incarcerated, underrepresented in research, and urban populations of low socioeconomic status.
For his presentation, he provided a historical background of racial health disparities in the United States, a phenomenon that was observed as early as prior to the Civil War. Intellectuals debated whether the compressed lifespans of Black Americans were a consequence of their social conditions – among other things, their subjugation in slavery – or some essential genetic inferiority. In the early 20th century, sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois authored a text titled The Philadelphia Negro, which posited a relationship between health outcomes for Black Americans in Philadelphia and their dwelling within a racist and socially unequal society.
A throughline of social and health inequity for racial minorities in the United States persists today, said Dr. Senteio. Presently, with the widespread emergence and distribution of health technologies for patients, new inequities present themselves in the form of intervention generated inequalities, a phenomenon in which health technological interventions tend to disproportionately benefit more socioeconomically advantaged populations, due in part to greater accessibility and ease of adoption and use for such advantaged groups.
Dr. Senteio described a study he conducted to address issues of inequalities of technological adoption and usability among Black older adults. With a team of designers and other researchers, he developed an intergenerational diabetes management training seminar for older Black Americans living in the Flint and Detroit areas of Michigan. The participants were trained by technologically skilled younger adults. The older adults reported enjoying the trainings, highlighting the patience of the younger trainers and the solidarity of participating in the training with a group of other learners. The project also yielded t insights regarding the ability of community-based participatory research to engage populations that are typically underserved by health care.
Another study in development by Dr. Senteio involves modifying a prostate cancer treatment aid for better usability among Black Americans, with the use of focus groups to develop the parameters of a prototype. In particular, the study will recruit Black prostate cancer survivors to help improve technology for delivering information to newly diagnosed Black prostate cancer patients. Future directions for Dr. Senteio’s research include understanding how provider credibility influences health behavior and outcomes and using this information to address racial equity and reduce the cost of care.