Thom Walton is a research coordinator for the Northwest Research Group on Aging (NWRGA) – part of the University of Washington School of Nursing’s Department of Psychosocial & Community Health. Thom has worked with the NWRGA for 1.5 years, interviewing older adults with dementia and their caregivers. Previously, as an interviewer for the Department of Epidemiology, he traveled throughout the U.S. coordinating and administrating questionnaires for high school and junior high students to examine the relationship of adolescent depression and conduct disorders. In another UW position, this time for the School of Social Work, he was a research coordinator for another study that examined adolescent mental health issues. He received a bachelors degree in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin, where he nurtured his interest in the discipline of methodology, which he employs regularly in his current position. Of his choice of profession, he says: “I had a longtime interest in psychology and methodology and I always knew that I wanted to do work that improves people’s lives.”
Thom’s typical day at the NWRGA is split between travel and study coordination. On average he administers between one to three in-home interviews per workday anywhere in Western Washington – usually three visits over six months with any one subject. Back in the office, he works behind the scenes doing phone recruitment, interview scheduling and activity monitor management.
One specialized and crucial duty is the management of activity monitors (Actigraphs) for the AFH (Adult Family Home) study, which is looking at a method to improve sleep in dementia patients living in AFHs. Participants wear these devices continuously for one week and afterward Thom downloads, manages, and interprets the recorded data of sleep patterns for investigator analysis. The Actigraphs give a clear picture at how subjects are sleeping and how interventions testing light therapy, walking therapy and/or education therapy affect the quality of sleep. Actigraphs are also used in another study – NiteAd – which is investigating different methods to improve length and quality of sleep for both dementia patients but also his or her caregivers.
Thom is excited that a new NIH study –RALLI – is now beginning implementation. This study will take the sleep studies a step further by employing a new device called an Atical which records participants’ activity levels including caloric expenditure.
Thom says that what he enjoys most about his position is that he has the opportunity to travel throughout Western Washington meeting lots of interesting people, being invited into their homes, and feeling like the work he does can make a difference for those struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
He sees much promise in the development of effective behavioral interventions that are cost-effective and have fewer complications that pharmaceutical interventions.
During his free time, Thom’s interests include gardening, camping, travel, arts and crafts, and enjoying live music.
In closing Thom would like to say to study participants “… how much I appreciate their volunteering and participation, and how they willingly invite me into their homes in order to further this meaningful and important research.”