Tam Perry, PhD, is the first nonphysician investigator to receive the National Hemophilia Foundation’s (NHF) Innovative Investigator Research Award. A gerontologist, Perry is an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Wayne State University in Detroit and holds a doctorate in Social Work and Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Perry’s Innovative Investigator Research Award supports her work with a multi-institutional team studying important aspects of aging with a bleeding disorder.
Along with Perry, the team includes Sara Schwartz, PhD, MSW, clinical assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and a board member of the National AIDS Memorial Grove; Dana Francis, MSW, a social worker in the adult hemophilia program at the University of California San Francisco Hemophilia Treatment Center; and Charles Kaplan, PhD, associate dean of research and research professor at the Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
“We were very excited to be funded because it’s very much a social science project, a social work project, and we didn’t know if NHF would really be interested in that,” Perry says. While not focused on developing novel technologies or therapies, the project is very much in line with NHF’s commitment to funding research to support the bleeding disorders community.
As outlined in Perry’s award application, the study, titled Navigating Time and Space: Experiences of Aging with Hemophilia, has two main aims: “1) To examine the lived experiences and time horizons of APWH [aging persons with hemophilia] in order to characterize this community and 2) To enhance service delivery practice after examining needs, facilitators and barriers experienced by APWH.” Thus the project looks to add to gerontological and social work theory while also highlighting concrete ways NHF and its chapters can better support older members of the bleeding disorders community.
For Perry, who in 2019 was named a fellow of the Gerontological Society of America and is president of the Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work, this is her first funded grant related to a specific medical condition. Her previous work has ranged from research on health disparities among older adults to examining older people’s relationships to their homes and decisions regarding relocating. “I really like to look at meaning making, how people make sense of things in older adulthood,” she says.
The process that led to applying for the NHF Innovative Investigator Research Award grew from an established partnership between Perry and Schwartz. Schwartz had previously collaborated with Francis on a project about the impacts of the intersection of HIV and hemophilia on individuals and families. “Sara had conducted 32 interviews for that project, and she realized so many of these interviews had issues and concerns of aging in them,” Perry says. “So we’re first analyzing already collected data to dissect on aging themes, and then later we’re going to collect our own data with older adults.”
The insights gleaned from this data, Perry believes, could prove useful to people beyond the bleeding disorders community, including others with chronic conditions whose life spans have extended thanks to treatment advances. “What you value and where you put your time after having that kind of switch, I think we have a lot to learn from our project to contribute to those kinds of questions.”
Perry says she’s grateful to be working with NHF on answering these key questions about aging with a bleeding disorder. Partnering with a foundation, she says, offers opportunities not always present when research is conducted under governmental grants. “A lot of people go after such funding, which is amazing support for projects, but it’s also a different thing to have such close alignment with your funder’s unique interest in a population. Foundations have a real reason that they want to fund people and it’s different than government mandates to reach a larger countrywide population. So my grant with NHF, I know that there will be a quick path to directly affecting the lives of people like the people in my study.”
Learn more about the Innovative Investigator Research Award.