Center for Optimal Aging Team


Center for Optimal Aging Team Patricia C Heyn, Ph.D., FGSA, FACRM.
Founding Director, Center for Optimal AgingCenter for Optimal Aging Team
Professor, College of Health and Education

Dr. Patricia C. Heyn has over 25 years of experience conducting research, educational activities, services, and advocacy in gerontology and rehabilitation sciences. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, book chapters, and articles.  In addition, she has developed various products for pragmatic and translational consumer utilization. She has unique expertise in conceiving and implementing evidence-based research projects and initiatives to inform best practices and policies.  She is renowned for her exceptional research in evaluating exercise programs for Alzheimer’s disease. Her investigations include (1) health disparities and chronic disease prevention of people who are aging with a disability; (2) preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease with exercise and/or cognitive training; (3) evaluating protective/risk factors associated with cognitive decline and frailty; (4) health promotion, wellness, and person-centered health outcomes; and (5) evaluating emerging technologies for individuals with cognitive impairment, She is a leader in the development of innovative scientific training and mentoring activities aimed at increasing the diversity of the biomedical science workforce. Dr. Heyn is committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity and strives to develop and advance a culturally diverse and representative research agenda.  Her studies have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living, and the Coleman Institute.

Click here to view Dr.Heyn’s profile.
Click here to view Dr.Heyn’s Forbes Health profile.

Center for Optimal Aging Team

Rita Wong, PT, Ed.D., FAPTA
Co-Founder and Interim Director, Center for Optimal Aging,
Professor of Physical Therapy, College of Health Sciences
Associate Vice President for Research, Marymount University

She came to Marymount in 1995 as the founding Director of Marymount’s Physical Therapy program, where she served in a leadership role from 1995 until 2013. In 2013, she transitioned into an academic affairs administration role overseeing graduate education. In 2017, oversight of research activities was added to her responsibilities. She has been a champion for the establishment of Marymount’s Center of Optimal Aging and continues in a leadership role with the Center, linking community groups with the Center.

Dr. Wong has over 40 years of academic and clinical experience in physical rehabilitation and health promotion for older adults. She is a co-editor of a nationally recognized textbook on Geriatric Physical Therapy, now in its 4th edition. Her research has focused on preparing healthcare students to work with older adults, fall prevention, and the health and wellness of older adults. Dr. Wong has served as the principal investigator for two Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Community Living (HHS: ACL) grants to embed evidence-based falls prevention programs into the Northern Virginia Community. Dr. Wong is a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Click here to view Dr.Rita Wong’s profile.

Center for Optimal Aging Team

Uma Kelekar, PhD
Senior Fellow, Center for Optimal Aging
Associate Professor, School of Business,
College of Business, Innovation, Leadership and Technology

Dr. Uma Kelekar has been a faculty at Marymount University since 2011 and teaches courses in Health Economics, Epidemiology, and Healthcare data analysis. She has extensive experience conducting health services research in public health dentistry, health economics, and policy. She uses extensive survey data and employs innovative empirical methodologies to investigate emerging trends and patterns in healthcare services utilization across multiple vulnerable and underserved population segments and the use of Emergency Departments (EDs) for non-urgent care across the United States. She has presented her work at various academic and practitioner conferences, including meetings of the American Public Health Association, American Society of Health Economists, National Oral Health Conference, and Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis. She has published book chapters and articles in journals such as Health Policy and Planning, Preventive Medicine, Preventing Chronic Disease, PlosOne, Health Behavior and Policy Review, Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, and the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA). Her research has been funded by foundations such as the Dentaquest Foundation and Dental Trade Alliance. She has a Ph.D. in Public Policy from George Mason University. Her undergraduate and master’s are in economics from India.

Click here to view Dr. Uma Kelekar’s profile.

Center for Optimal Aging TeamCatherine Diaz-Asper, Ph.D.
Fellow, Center for Optimal Aging
Associate Professor of Psychology
School of Social & Behavioural  Sciences,
College of Science and Humanities
703-284-3328 (o)

Dr. Catherine Diaz-Asper is an associate professor of psychology with 20 years of experience as a clinical researcher in aging and dementia. With a background in neuropsychology, she has an active research program that focuses on the clinical presentation of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease, as expressed through language and memory. She has received grant funding from the National Institutes of Health and Rotary’s Coins for Alzheimer’s Research Trust for her research on developing a dementia screening tool that uses artificial intelligence to analyze speech recorded over the telephone.

Click here for a list of Dr. Catherine’s publications.

Center for Optimal Aging TeamSara T. Pappa, Ph.D., MCHES
Affiliate, Center for Optimal Aging
Assistant Professor, Health and Human Performance,
School of Health Sciences, Marymount University
Principal Investigator, Erase Falls  and Program  Coordinator, Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance
Phone: 703-908-7711

Dr. Sara Pappa, a Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES), is an Assistant Professor in the Health and Human Performance Department. She holds a BS in Health Education and Promotion from the University of Cincinnati, an MA in Exercise Physiology from Kent State University, and a Ph.D. in Health Education from the University of Cincinnati. In addition to teaching, she manages the regional falls prevention initiative, including the Northern Virginia Falls Prevention Alliance. A federal Administration for Community Living grant supports this work. Current research initiatives include evidence-based falls prevention programs for older adults and the professional preparation of health educators. Dr. Pappa is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Virginia Arthritis and Falls Prevention Coalition and a Board member of the Arlington Neighborhood Village. In previous roles, she worked in local public health departments in Fairfax County and Ohio. She has extensive experience managing local, regional, and state public health projects. Her experience includes implementing and evaluating health promotion programs and policies; conducting community health needs assessments; developing and evaluating community health improvement plans; media outreach and public relations; grant research, writing, and administration; coalition development and leadership; and strategic planning.

Click here to view Dr. Sara Pappa’s profile.

Center for Optimal Aging TeamShelly Aboagye, Ed.D.
Fellow, Center for Optimal Aging
Assistant Professor, School of Counseling,
College of Health and Education

Dr. Aboagye has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Counseling since 2021. Her research primarily focuses on spirituality and well-being, with a particular emphasis on social aspects, public health, and nutrition, fall prevention, and policy implications related to healthy aging on a global scale. She aims to promote societal understanding and develop innovative interventions and solutions to address complex issues of aging. By encouraging healthier lifestyles, her goal is to improve the overall well-being and quality of life of the elderly population. In 2019, while serving as a clinical manager at a behavioral health agency, Dr. Aboagye provided mental health services to individuals residing in a nursing home. Through meaningful discussions, she was able to address a range of issues regarding overall well-being, including establishing a sense of purpose, managing depression, and improving cognitive, physical, and mental health. This experience inspired her to organize ongoing wellness workshops and interventions to promote social connection and enhance the quality of life for older adults. Dr. Aboagye is excited to collaborate with professionals and contribute to ongoing research efforts aimed at identifying ways to advocate for and support the elderly, ultimately enhancing their quality of life. She currently serves as the President of the Mediterranean Region Counselor Association and provides clinical consultation at Ryan Rehabilitation Inc.

Click here to view Dr. Shelly’s profile.