Carlos Mendes de Leon, Ph.D., M.A.
Dr. Mendes de Leon is a social epidemiologist with a primary interest in the major health problems and health disparities in late life. His work focuses on a broad array of social and psychological determinants that affect the development and progression of disability, cognitive decline, and other common age-associated health conditions. Specific areas of interest include the role of neighborhood-level social processes and environments and the interplay between life-course social conditions and biological processes in the development of age-associated declines in physical and mental health. His most recent research focuses on the connection between work-related experiences, timing and process of retirement, and post-retirement health. He is also developing new lines of research related to health disparities in the Arab American population.
- Ph.D., Sociomedical Sciences, University of Texas
- M.A., Clinical Psychology, Radboud University of Nijmegen
- B.A., Psychology, Radboud University of Nijmegen
Health Services Research & Policy Focus
What are you thinking about?
For a number of years, I have been focusing on the health and well-being of aging populations through the lens of social epidemiology. In particular, I have been studying the major determinants of late-life declines in health by looking at increases in disabilities and decreases in self-care abilities and independent living among the elderly. Interactions with others in the community, participation in social activities, and the social environment in which they live all affect the health of aging populations.
One of my current projects is focused on these factors using a social network methodology with data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP). Simulations are made based on these data to understand the structure and dynamics of the social relationships in the CHAP study population, and then to see if these social network characteristics affect older adults’ health trajectories as they age. Another current project uses occupational history data from the same population to evaluate the degree to which work-related cognitive and psychosocial experiences during adulthood are linked to the aging process later in life. These types of studies are more common in European than in American populations and they can help us to understand the health of the aging population in the U.S.
Why is this interesting to you?
The study of social factors and how they influence health outcomes is a fascinating aspect of social epidemiology. Such studies are especially important for older adults because they face unique challenges when compared to younger adult populations. There has been very little research so far that has used a social network methodology to understand the social dynamics of age-associated changes in health in the rapidly aging population in the U.S. This systems-based approach can shed new light on the social determinants of health for the aging population and how our health system can help to address them.
What are the practical implications for healthcare?
There are many opportunities to consider the linkages between the residential social environments in which older people live, the social networks in which they interact with others, and access to or utilization of health care services. Older adults utilize more health care services than other age groups and face more obstacles when accessing these services. Reduced mobility and reduced cognitive functioning may have a significant negative influence on older adults’ ability to access health care services and navigate a complex health care and insurance system. Future studies could focus on how older persons’ positions within larger social network structures enable them to overcome barriers in the effective use of the health care services they need.