Dr. Putnam’s research focuses on the intersections of aging and disability, with particular emphasis on understanding how public programs and public policy meets the needs of persons aging with disability. Within this area, her work examines collaborations between aging and disability service providers and their capacity to serve the aging with disability population, long-term care and support needs of persons aging with disabilities, the role of activity portfolios in fostering well being among older adults, and the relationship of asset accumulation in fostering financial security and independent living among older adults and persons aging with disability.
Dr. Putnam’s scholarship is both independent and done in collaboration with colleagues across institutions and disciplines, and when possible with direct stakeholders. Funders of Dr. Putnam’s research and/or research collaborations include the John A. Hartford Foundation, the AARP Foundation, National Institute of Aging, and the Productive Living Board of St. Louis County. She is frequently engaged to speak about aging with disability and public policy to research, practice, and policy audiences.
In addition to her research, Dr. Putnam actively participates at the national and international level in building bridges across the aging and disability fields of policy and practice. Most recently she is serving on the expert panel that drafted the Toronto declaration on bridging knowledge, policy and practice in aging and disability, a product of the 2011 Growing Older with Disability meeting at the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiveing, Disabiliity, Aging, and Technology held in Toronto, Canada. With the help of March of Dimes Canada, she coordinated a supplement issue of the International Journal of Integrated Care about bridging aging and disability and the rationale or and need for the Toronto Declaration. Dr. Putnam continues to coordinate the activities of that expert panel as they develop the entity, Bridging Aging and Disability International Network, to facilitate knowledge development, transfer, and translation between the fields of aging and disability. She was recently appointed as Editor of the Journal of Gerontological Social Work.
Dr. Putnam is one of the few scholars in the field of social work studying aging with disability and is recognized for her leadership in this area. She has actively worked to build awareness of the distinctions between aging with long-term disability and incurring disability for the first time in later life as it relates to provision of supports and services and the overall experience of aging. Her work is both theoretical and empirical, but always related to public policy and the practical aspects of making aging and disability policies and programs work well for people aging with disabilities and their families. Dr. Putnam’s current interest in capacity building within aging and disability service networks directly stems from her prior work. She believes that building capacity to meet unique needs of aging with disability populations has potential to compliment and move current discussions focused on institutional systems change to also include discourse what individuals and their families need to live independently, engage in their community, and experience positive aging.