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New Institute On Aging Aims To Enrich The Lives Of The Elderly

February 17, 2005 --

In our youth-oriented culture, “the graying of America” is not likely to be the lead story on MTV News. And no one is going to produce a reality show about surviving Alzheimer’s disease in a nursing home. But the truth is that a massive generation of baby boomers is heading toward retirement, and with them come the health problems associated with aging.

To address the many social and health issues involving the aging U.S. population, the University of Virginia has created an Institute on Aging. Its mission is to enrich the lives of the elderly — now and in the future — by inspiring and coordinating interdisciplinary research, education and service programs at the University in the subject of aging.

“The aging of America is a major societal issue with enormous implications on health care,” said Timothy Salthouse, director of the Institute on Aging and the Brown-Forman Professor of Psychology. “People are living longer, and are healthy longer, but ultimately, many older people will develop Alzheimer’s disease and other long-term health problems.”

One-fifth of the adult population now is over 65, Salthouse said, and the incidence of Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after age 60. Currently, there are about 2.7 million people with Alzheimer’s, and that number is expected to rise to about 7 million by 2030 as the elderly population grows from about 16 percent of the population today to 25 percent. “We want to optimize our period of maximum function,” Salthouse said. “We want to increase life expectancy while compressing the period of poor health. The key is not to live longer but to live better.”

The institute promotes basic and applied research on topics related to aging, serves as an information and education resource about aging issues, and seeks to influence the development and implementation of public policy that addresses the needs of older adults.

Salthouse noted that in 1930, there were 10 workers for every person over 65. Today, there are 3.5 to four workers for every person over 65. This ratio will continue to decrease, placing huge stress on the Social Security system.

“The population is changing and work needs to be done to face these challenges,” he said.

With funding from the University’s vice president for research office, the institute provides seed funding for early-stage research projects on aging. Salthouse said investigators need solid preliminary data to convince funding agencies to provide the big money needed to conduct large-scale and prolonged studies. The institute’s pilot grants are designed to help promising projects get started.

Last year, six U.Va. research projects were funded though the pilot grant project, and this year four new grants recently were awarded in a second round of funding (more below).

“We are identifying projects, putting people in touch with each other, and helping to fund the early stages of some of this work,” Salthouse said. “We hope to eventually be among the best in the world in a few areas of aging research.”

The Department of Psychology recently hired Paul Baltes, a distinguished researcher in aging, and director emeritus of the Center of Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Baltes is known for creating the field of life span psychology and for his research on the effects of aging on cognition. One of Baltes’ missions is to bring distinguished speakers to the University for an ongoing series of aging lectures. He also will arrange networks encouraging interactions among faculty and graduate students at U.Va., the Max Planck Society and other prominent institutions.

Salthouse estimates that there are about 300 researchers at U.Va. who are conducting age-related investigations. Areas of research include: age-related neurological diseases, aging and robotics and assistive devices, fall prevention, the effects of exercise on aging, and numerous others from a broad array of disciplines and perspectives. He noted that several of last year’s pilot project awardees have already gathered much of the data needed to complete proposals for major funding.

To learn more about the Institute on Aging, visit:

Institute Funds Pilot Projects:

The Institute on Aging encourages collaborative research across Grounds on topics relevant to issues involving later life. Four pilot research projects have been selected for funding this year. The awardees are:

Majd Alwan, assistant professor of pathology, and Courtney Lyder, professor of nursing. They are working to develop a low-cost device for detecting bedsores and other pressure sores affecting bedridden and immobilized dark-skinned people.

James Bennett, professor of neurology, is working toward development of mitochondrial gene replacement therapy for use in human diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s heart failure and muscle wasting.

Jack Knight-Scott, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, is testing a new method for quantifying the contributions of cerebral spinal fluid and brain tissue water in the human brain. This could advance the understanding of the pathology of disease processes in the brain and normal age-related processes.

Jeffrey S. Smith, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, is using lab methods to understand the reasons why calorie restriction seems to increase life span. Ultimately, the work could lead to antiaging therapeutics in mammals.

Aging Events at U.Va.

March 8
Aging 101 - Community Lecture Series
Professors Arthur Weltman and Glenn Gaesser of the Curry School of Education will give a talk on exercise and aging from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn at 1901 Emmet St. The talk is limited to 100 attendees. To reserve a space, call 434-243-5327 or email:


March 18
Dr. Ian Deary, from the University of Edinburgh, will give a talk, "A Lifetime of Intelligence: Following up the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947" at 3:30 p.m. in the Old Medical School Building auditorium. A reception with refreshments will follow.

March 22
Aging 101 - Community Lecture Series
Dr. Majd Alwan, Dept. of Pathology, and Prof. John Lach, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will give a talk on aging and promising new technologies for health care of the aging from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn at 1901 Emmet St. The talk is limited to 100 attendees. To reserve a space, call 434-243-5327 or email:

April 5
Aging 101 - Community Lecture Series
Law professors Thomas White and Thomas Hafemeister will discuss aging and legal issues from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn at 1901 Emmet St. The talk is limited to 100 attendees. To reserve a space, call 434-243-5327 or email:

April 26 - SYMPOSIUM - "Research on Exercise and Healthy Aging."
Dr. Steven Blair, Cooper Institute, will discuss "The Importance of Physical Activity and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Aging: What Physicians Should Tell their Patients." Dr. William Evans, University of Arkansas, will speak on "Sarcopenia: Effects of Diet and Exercise." Dr. Edward McAuley, University of Illinois, Champaign, will lecture on "Physical Activity and Aging: Adherence, Function, and Quality of Life." The conference will be held in Jordan Hall Auditorium.

April 28-29
Mary Starke Harper, Ph.D., R.N., a leading authority on mental health and long-term care, and an advisor to four U.S. presidents, will give a lecture. Details will be announced soon.

Contact: Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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