has traveled all over the world to share her research on public health and aging in community. Her next opportunity is about to take her to Northern Europe.

Hou, a professor of in the College of Community Innovation and Education, has been named the 2024-25 Fulbright-Saastamoinen Foundation Distinguished Chair in Health Sciences.

The U.S. Fulbright Program partners with universities worldwide, inviting leading scholars to study and teach abroad in short-term appointments. The Distinguished Chairs Program is one of its most prestigious awards. Candidates are typically senior scholars with significant publication and teaching records.

On her upcoming trip, Hou will visit the University of Eastern Finland to work on the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability project, also known as the FINGERS study. This study shows that five lifestyle changes 鈥 nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, social activities and cardiovascular risk management 鈥 can protect and promote brain health and slow cognitive decline.

Building on insights from the original trial, Hou will help the FINGERS research team explore the effects of digitally enhanced lifestyle interventions.

鈥淩esearchers have found that these lifestyle changes are linked to better thinking and problem-solving abilities,鈥 Hou says. 鈥淭hey emphasize the importance of sticking to these changes for lasting benefits.

With ongoing concerns about global aging and increased digital communication post-pandemic, we need new trial designs based on the successful FINGERS model. Although the original study was very successful, transitioning these lifestyle interventions to a digital format presents new challenges.鈥

One of these new trials will study the correlation between hearing impairment and cognitive decline. Hou will evaluate the digital self-assessment tool using mixed-methods research, her area of expertise.

鈥淲e don鈥檛 typically link hearing impairment with mental decline, but the team is trying to study how personalized hearing rehabilitation may impact the cognitive function so we can better understand how older adults use digital tools,鈥 she says.

This study is a natural extension of Hou鈥檚 research on aging in community, which focuses on helping older adults live independently while fostering connections with their communities to improve their sense of belonging and well-being. Hou has presented her research at numerous universities overseas through hundreds of presentations, workshops and seminars.

She also has previous experience as a Fulbright Specialist. In December 2022 she traveled to Ben-Gurion University in Israel, where she studied local aging-in-community models and led mixed-methods research workshops at the Israeli Center for Qualitative Research.

Hou says she is fascinated by different countries鈥 cultural perspectives on aging-in-community.

鈥淭he cultural differences have always stood out to me whenever I鈥檝e traveled or collaborated with colleagues around the world,鈥 she says. 鈥淚鈥檓 really excited to see how Finland鈥檚 perspective contributes to healthy aging-in-community.鈥

Hou will complete her appointment in Finland over two one-month visits 鈥 the first in late August 2024 and the second in May 2026.

She says she is thrilled to help the FINGERS team bring worldwide attention to brain health and believes this experience will lead to many positive developments.

鈥淚 foresee more opportunities through this Fulbright Distinguished Chair program, which I鈥檓 really honored and grateful to be part of,鈥 she says.