t’s an overcast February morning, but Dr. Robert Thoburn’s energy defies the dreariness of the day. His daily hourlong gym workout already behind him, the 79-year-old rheumatologist is attending a lecture on climate change at the Harn Museum of Art, and from here, he’s going trap shooting.
“It’s climbing another hill,” he says of learning to trap shoot. “These tiny little targets travel 70 miles an hour, and you have to perfect the technique.”
Thoburn, an adjunct associate professor in the UF College of Medicine, is intentional about keeping his mind sharp and remaining younger than his years. Undoubtedly, he is the very picture of what many would consider to be aging successfully.
At UF Health, teams of researchers are striving to find techniques to help multitudes of seniors to live as Thoburn does — to remain independent and active and enjoy life.
One of the keys to that success is to delay what is known as the cognitive aging process, or the decline in cognition that occurs in almost everyone. In parallel with UF experts who are studying disorders of memory — that is, pathological variants such as Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia — researchers who specialize in age-related memory loss and the study of other kinds of thinking, problem-solving and brain changes with aging are focused on the normal cognitive aging process that affects 97 percent of people. With studies spanning from rodent models to human clinical trials, these investigators are working to change the future for those 65 and older, whose population is projected to double by 2050.
“Age-related memory loss or decline in thinking and memory skills is normal — it’s what we expect, in fact,” says Adam Woods, PhD, an assistant professor of clinical and health psychology and assistant director of the Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory at the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of UF.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. Our research attempts to find ways to postpone or compensate for the cognitive aging process.”