Tune in to Focus Carolina during morning, noon and evening drive times and on the weekends to hear stories from faculty members at UNC and find out what ignites their passion for their work. Focus Carolina is an exclusive program on 97.9 The Hill WCHL, sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Sheryl Zimmerman is an international recognized professor with UNC’s School of Social Work. Through her work, Zimmerman develops evidence-based practices that help caregivers respond to medical events and support daily living activities.

“The type of research I do is very interdisciplinary and it’s all focused on better understanding care and needs of older adults and different services that older adults need. Especially older adults who have need for long term care and supports.”

Since arriving at UNC in 1997, Zimmerman has been named a Kenan Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean of research. In 2016, she was recognized as the nation’s top ranked social work scholar in aging, which she credits to the collaborative atmosphere in Chapel Hill.

“That is really important; interaction and engagement in the work we do. Both my own work and the work other people in the school of social work do, specifically to me and a lot of it is related to long-term care, which means creating partnerships with long-term care organizations, nursing homes, assisting living, day cares. The way we build scholarship and the way we have impact is working closely with partners in the community to understand what services they provide and what are the care needs of the people who live in the community and are using these services.”

One of the simplest acts in nursing homes and assisted living facilities can have the biggest impact. Zimmerman explains that helping elderly adults brush their teeth can prevent pneumonia.

“It has long been recognized that oral hygiene and tooth brushing is something that has been one of the least well-provided services in nursing homes. The same time, what has come to be known, is that people in nursing homes, when they get all that bacteria building up on their plaque, building up on their gums with gingivitis, when they can’t cough or can’t swallow well, that bacteria goes into their lungs and caused pneumonia.”

Zimmerman helped develop a program called “Mouth Care Without A Battle” that helps health care workers know some of the basic techniques for brushing people’s teeth. After working with 14 nursing homes, the program found that they helped prevent the risk of pneumonia by 32 percent.