sealPurdue Science Briefs

August 1996

Preschool years may be best for learning about disabilities

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of a preschool child in a walker playing with his classmates is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. Ask for the photo called Diamond/Preschoolers.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Children with disabilities benefit from being around normally developing peers, but what effect does being around a child in a wheelchair -- or one with hearing aids -- have on the typical preschooler?

That's the question behind ongoing research by Karen E. Diamond, associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University. She also directs Purdue's Child Development Labs, a preschool program that includes children with disabilities.

The preschool years may be the most fruitful for teaching children about disabilities, she says. "You don't see the teasing of other children and overt meanness that can be displayed by older kids. Also, preschoolers are open and curious. They ask a lot of questions. They also like to test and learn about the equipment that's associated with disabilities -- such as walkers and computer aids," Diamond says.

Her latest findings support the belief that preschoolers who know peers with disabilities are more accepting of other children with disabilities. In a study of 45 children ages 3 to 6 years who were in a preschool program with youngsters with disabilities, Diamond found the majority of them were likely to suggest that they could "be friends" with a hypothetical child in a wheelchair. "These kids' acceptance ratings of children with disabilities were significantly higher than those of preschool children in regular classes," she says. The study will appear in the winter 1996 edition of the journal Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.

CONTACT: Diamond, (765) 494-2958;Internet:

To receive the full text of a news release about preschoolers and disabilities, send an e-mail message that says "send punews 9604f1" to

Health-care study finds many caregivers overwhelmed

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Working adults who are primary caregivers to elderly family members are clamoring for information about community resources, stress management and mental incapacities of the elderly, say two Purdue University School of Nursing researchers.

Jo A. Brooks, head of the School of Nursing, and Peg Krach, associate professor of nursing, surveyed 760 caregivers at Purdue. They found that caregiving responsibilities often interfered with family activities (56 percent of the respondents), leisure activities (52 percent), and work (39 percent).

"Presently, family members are caring for over 7 million older persons, and it's projected that number will rise to an astounding high of 14.4 million by the year 2050," Brooks says. "As family caregivers are the primary source of daily assistance to older adults, it's crucial that we keep this caregiving component of our nation's health care system viable."

The average person in the study was a 52-year-old married woman with children under the age of 18. Caregivers most often were called upon to help with household chores, personal care, managing finances, providing financial support and transportation, and companionship. One-fourth to about one-third of them had a variety of health problems, including headaches, nervousness, insomnia, weight gain or loss, and unusual drowsiness.

Subjects spent anywhere from one to 30 hours per week helping their elderly relatives, with an average of five hours weekly. About 12 percent visited the elderly daily, 28 percent weekly, 13 percent several times a month, and 46 percent monthly.

Krach says: "The working caregiver should be a major focus of nursing research. Health care professionals need to become more involved with developing, implementing and evaluating programs to assist caregivers of the elderly."

CONTACTS: Brooks, (765) 494-4004; Internet,

Krach, (765) 494-4026

Purdue students put the 'happy' back into birthday candles

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of the students with the candles is available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096. Ask for the photo called Schweitzer/Soybean Candles.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Now you can have your cake and eat the candles, too, thanks to three Purdue University students who have created an edible birthday cake candle that uses hydrogenated soybean oil instead of petroleum-based paraffin.

The peppermint-flavored candles don't drip and have a slightly shorter flame height. Christened "Flavor Favors" by their student inventors, the soy-based candles burn an average 25 seconds longer than commercial candles.

The candles took first place in a recent universitywide undergraduate student competition sponsored by Purdue's Department of Agronomy and the Indiana Soybean Development Council. Inventors Amy Khal of Iowa City, Iowa , Rahul Nair of Jackson, Miss., and Adam Watkins of Goshen, Ind., all students in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, split a $5,000 prize.

The composition of the candles is 83 percent hydrogenated soybean oil; 16 percent glycerol, a sweet emulsifier; about 1 percent coloring; and a bit of concentrated peppermint oil for flavoring. A combination of fully and partially hydrogenated soybean oil gives the blue, red and yellow candles form and texture; the glycerol makes the candles slightly softer and easier to chew. The peppermint oil could be replaced by other flavors as desired, Khal said.

Watkins, who was the designated candle eater for the team, said he wants to continue work on replacing the cotton wick with something tastier. Watkins is maintaining a World Wide Web page for the project at

CONTACT: Chris Sigurdson, Purdue Agricultural Communications Service, (765) 494-8415; Internet,

To receive the full text of a news release about the edible candles, send an e-mail message to that says "send punews 9604f41"

Sons should shoulder more burden for aging parents, expert says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Daughters for too long have carried the primary burden of caring for elderly relatives and will need to corral their brothers into helping out in the future, predicts a Purdue expert on sibling relationships.

"As families have fewer children, and people live longer, the need for more sibling cooperation in the care of aging family members becomes a must," says Victor Cicirelli, professor of human development and author of the book, "Sibling Relationships Across the Life Span."

He says this will be particularly important in the next 15 years when baby boomers start to retire. "It's like a hurricane offshore that hasn't hit yet," says Cicirelli. "When we start getting these huge numbers of people entering old age, there simply won't be enough community resources available to care for them."

"Sisters are the glue that keeps families together. In fact, older people report feelings of greater security in old age if they have living sisters. That isn't the case for brothers. However, that doesn't mean that men can't assume more responsibility in caring for parents and aging siblings."

Cicirelli says siblings show a tendency to reach out to each other as they age. "If you are in your 60s or 70s and lose a spouse -- and your children are spread around the country -- then you do gravitate to that sister or brother who may be nearby."

He suggests that getting brothers to assist with the care of aging relatives may require only asking them. "People later in life say, 'I know I could ask my siblings for help and they would do it.' The problem is they really don't ask that much help of each other."

Caregiving for the aging is one of many topics covered in Cicirelli's new book, in which he attempts to survey and summarize sibling research across the life span.

CONTACT: Victor Cicirelli, (765) 494-6925; Internet:

Compiled by Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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