Thai researcher into ageing gains Australian perspective

Published 03 October 2008

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A Thai researcher into healthy ageing has just completed four months of collaborative academic work at the University of New England, complemented by experience of everyday life in regional Australia.

Prapaporn Manorath (pictured here), a lecturer at Boromarajonani College of Nursing in Thailand’s Uttaradit Province, is completing a four-year investigation of measures that people in their early 50s can take to prepare themselves – both mentally and physically – for retirement.

Working in Thailand with primary school teachers between the ages of 50 and 55, she found, through an initial sampling of 328 teachers, that knowledge – and practice – of health-promoting behaviours was not a high priority for professional people such as these. She then developed a health-promotion program for a group of the teachers to follow, and found that it had a positive effect on indicators such as blood pressure and stress levels.

“This ‘health promotion model’ focused on the teachers’ physical, mental and social wellbeing,” Ms Manorath said, “and involved them in taking responsibility for their own health by managing stress, maintaining healthy levels of nutrition and exercise, developing positive mental attitudes, and strengthening their social relationships.”

“And they actually did change their behaviour in these respects,” she added.

The study is the basis of Ms Manorath’s PhD thesis, which she will submit at Thailand’s Naresuan University next January. UNE has a collaborative arrangement with Naresuan University that facilitates exchange visits by scholars such as Ms Manorath, as well as large international projects. Naresuan University, like UNE, is a regional university with strong programs promoting the delivery of health services to people living in rural areas. Ms Manorath’s work in UNE’s School of Health over the past four months has been guided by David Briggs, a Senior Lecturer in the School who has wide experience of collaborative projects in Thailand.

One of Ms Manorath’s missions during the visit was to develop her English language skills through interaction in a variety of academic and social settings. Her achievements in this respect – and in her scholarly work – were displayed when she presented a research seminar in the School of Health last week. After her presentation, the Head of the School, Associate Professor Jeanne Madison, said: “I’m most admiring of your elegant study and your presentation today.”

Referring to the importance of Ms Manorath’s research, Dr Madison said: “You came to UNE to learn from us, and we’ve learnt so much from you.”

For part of her time in Australia, Ms Manorath stayed with a retired couple – Jo and Gavin Moore – on a farm near Manilla. She said this experience had contributed greatly to the development of her English language skills and her understanding of Australian lifestyles – particularly post-retirement. She also stayed in an Armidale home, experiencing family and social life in this regional city.

Coming from Thailand to a New England winter was, she said, something of a shock. But the friendliness of everyone she encountered, and the benefits she derived from her academic program at UNE, made her “warm at heart” even when “cold in the body”.