Here is a sample of the projects that will lead to new discoveries:
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Americans are living longer, with life expectancy continuing to increase from 78.6 in 2009 to 78.7 in 2010. In fact, life expectancy rose in just one year — from 78.6 in 2009 to 78.7 in 2010. To provide the keys to ensuring the years we gain are high quality and fruitful, the National Institute on Aging is funding a nationwide study to see whether behavioral and lifestyle interventions can help older adults retain their independence.
UF is the coordinating center for the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) Study and one of eight field sites. The phase 3 randomized control trial of 1,600 people ages 70 to 89 who are at risk of mobility disability is the largest study ever conducted on older adults comparing two lifestyle interventions — a physical activity program and a program of health education — to see which is more effective in maintaining mobility in older adults.
Researchers are examining the effects of physical activity on a number of factors, including cognitive function, serious fall injuries, disability in basic activities of daily living, cardiovascular events and hospitalization and nursing home admission. They will also examine quality-of-life measures such as depression symptoms, sleep quality, stress and satisfaction with life.
The four-year study concluded in November, and the results will be presented next spring. So far, the news is encouraging. The LIFE-Pilot study has shown that older sedentary adults can engage in active physical activity and that there are long-term positive effects of physical activity interventions on major mobility disability.
Learn more about the LIFE Study
Living with pain
For some, part of growing old is living with pain, and one area of research encompassed by CTSI is the newly formed Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence (PRICE). With strong support from the Institute on Aging and the UF Health Science Center, PRICE serves as the professional home for scientists, clinicians and trainees dedicated to improved understanding and treatment of pain. Under the direction of Roger Fillingim, PhD, a professor at the UF College of Dentistry, PRICE is focused on research to reduce pain-related suffering that afflicts about 100 million people in the U.S.
Healthy weight management
Dr. Stephen Anton, chief of clinical research in the department of aging and geriatric research at the College of Medicine, focuses his efforts on helping older overweight people increase and improve their mobility and eat a healthy diet. The obstacles are sometimes daunting. The participants in his study live in an environment that encourages the consumption of highly palatable foods that are high in fat and sugar and where they likely will not engage in physical activity throughout the day.
“As individuals engage in sedentary lifestyles and age, it becomes progressively more challenging to engage in a physical activity or an exercise regimen,” explained Anton, who leads the clinical research core for the Cognitive Aging and Memory Program as well as the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.
Someone who tries to go from being sedentary to becoming active often tends to overdo it. That can lead to injury or excessive soreness, quickly taking them from being highly motivated to very discouraged.
Still, there are many who recognize the stakes and meet the challenges. Through the results these people achieve, Anton and his fellow researchers have learned how great a difference these positive changes in lifestyle can make in people’s lives.
“We’ve seen when people engage in a progressive exercise program combined with a healthy diet they’re able to achieve many valuable changes in health-related quality of life,” Anton said. “Physically and cognitively they’re able to function at a high level. They feel better emotionally. Then those changes are reflected in the biology as well. So those are all encouraging changes. They see that when they do it, these types of outcomes are possible.”
After its initial NIH grant in 2007 that established the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, the Institute on Aging was awarded in 2012 a multimillion-dollar, five-year grant that is expected to total $5.2 million in renewed support of the Pepper Center.
The Center focuses on understanding age-related muscle loss from different perspectives, and the potential role of skeletal muscle as a key target for therapies to counteract age-related damage to the body. The center also aims to train the next generation of academic and research leaders in the field of aging.
UF is one of 15 institutions in the nation to receive the award, which is named for the late Claude D. Pepper, a U.S. senator-turned-representative from Florida. Pepper advocated for the rights of the elderly.
Expanding its reach
Late last year, UF officially opened a new research and education center in Orlando that includes a 4,200-square-foot unit that gives the Institute on Aging the ability to reach beyond Gainesville to recruit study participants.
The UF Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona allows the Institute on Aging to involve larger numbers of people from a wider geographical radius, improving the quality of the resulting research data and the soundness of the study findings.