Aging Initiative

Overview

The National Institute on Aging awarded the Center for Population and Health a five-year grant to support research at Georgetown University on aging and health.

The primary objectives of this initiative are to:

  • Build an intellectual home for research related to aging and promote the interdisciplinary exchange that will enrich the dimensionality and depth of that research
  • Enhance current and encourage new research on aging by supporting current researchers, by exploring and developing training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and by providing for transdisciplinary training at student and professional levels to develop ancillary skills.

Individually and collectively, domestically and internationally, our world is aging. That we age at the individual level is, of course, nothing new. The challenges facing us as we grow older may change with the times, but they have always been an integral part of our lives.

Aggregate or societal aging, however, is a recent phenomenon — one that has arisen as a consequence of the sweeping demographic changes of the 20th century. The increases in longevity and declines in fertility of the last century have caused important shifts in the age structure of our population. The typical "age pyramid" of a developed country has become increasingly rectangular with a shrinking base. In the United States, persons age 65 or older now comprise approximately 13 percent of the population, and this figure will increase in the near future. The proportion of elderly will rise to about one in six or seven persons within 25 years, with increasing proportions of the elderly at the "oldest old" ages (i.e., 80 years and above). Globally, there will be nearly 1 billion elderly by the year 2025; this number will double to 2 billion by 2050.

Both at the micro- and aggregate levels, aging intersects with multiple dimensions of our individual and social lives as well as with the well-being of our societies as a whole. As we age, the full spectrum of activities and interactions in our daily lives evolve: our needs and contributions to economic life, our social networks and connections, how we define and strive for well-being, all change. The process of aging is inherently multidimensional; it generates a need for a correspondingly interdisciplinary approach among practitioners and scholars. Institutional boundaries, both administrative and substantive, are obstacles to the kind of comprehensive research and training that are needed and that we must resolve collectively. This initiative seeks to continue a process that will develop the kind of cooperative structure that will allow us to work constructively to address the challenges of aging.



People

Paul S. Aisen

Paul Aisen has been conducting therapeutic research on Alzheimer's disease for the past two decades. Dr. A isen received his BA in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard in 1975, and his medical degree from Columbia in 1979. He completed residency training in Internal Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, and then fellowship training in Rheumatology at New York University. After serving as Chief Medical Resident at Mount Sinai, he began a solo practice in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology in New York City. Dr. Aisen maintained a close affiliation with Mount Sinai, and joined the full-time faculty in 1994. His research interests, stemming from his background in rheumatology, geriatric medicine and dementia, included inflammatory mechanisms in the brain and novel therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer's disease. He began collaborative studies with the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) in the early 1990's.

Dr. Aisen joined the faculty at Georgetown University in 1999 as Professor in the Departments of Neurology and Medicine. That year, he founded the Memory Disorders Program, a clinical and research program for Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. He continued basic research studies on therapeutic targets and biomarkers of AD and designed and directed multicenter therapeutic trials. Dr. Aisen was appointed Associate Director of the ADCS in 2003. He became Vice Chair of the Department of Neurology at Georgetown in 2004. He has collaborated extensively with the biotech and pharmaceutical industries for many years.

Following the tragic death of ADCS founder Leon Thal, M.D. in early 2007, Dr. Aisen relocated to University of Califonia, San Diego (UCSD) to assume the position of Director of the ADCS and Professor of Neurosciences.


Robert Friedland

Robert Friedland is Associate Research Professor at Georgetown University and the founding director of the Center on an Aging Society. Friedland has had a wide range of research and public policy experience, including Chief Economist for Maryland's Medicaid program; Senior Research Associate at the Employee Benefit Research Institute; Director of the American Association of Retired Person's Public Policy Institute; Research Director, National Academy of Social Insurance; and Economist on the staff of the U.S. Bipartisan Commission on Comprehensive Health Care, better known as the Pepper Commission.

Friedand has written on issues pertaining to the financing and delivery of health care and long-term care and retirement income security. His book, Facing the Costs of Long-Term Care, was awarded the 1992 Elizur Wright Award by the American Risk and Insurance Association.

Friedland is on the board of the National Academy for State Health Policy, the Long-Term Care Education Foundation, and the Editorial Board of Aging Today. Friedland received his doctorate in Economics from the George Washington University in 1983.


Melissa I. Figueiredo

Melissa I. Figueiredo completed her graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University (M.S., Ph.D) in Counseling Psychology. She recently completed a one-year clinical internship at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, IL. She has been newly hired as a post-doctorate and project coordinator in the Cancer Control Program at the Lombardi Cancer Center. Her primary responsibilities include the implementation of a large-scale federal grant under the leadership of Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, MPH. This study will examine chemotherapy decision-making in elderly women with breast cancer. Her major research interests include coping, communication, social relationships, and quality of life in women with breast cancer.


Darlene Howard

Darlene Howard's research investigates which cognitive and neural systems decline, and which are spared, in the course of aging. Her current work focuses primarily on healthy aging and on implicit forms of learning and memory, i.e., those occurring without conscious awareness or intention. This work is funded by a MERIT award from the National Institute on Aging. She and her students, in collaboration with colleagues at the Catholic University of America (James Howard, Jr.) and Georgetown (Paul Aisen, Chandan Vaidya) have also begun to examine how learning is affected by the early stages of Alzheimer's' disease and how to use fMRI techniques to study the brain mechanisms underlying age-related changes in learning. She is interested in developing collaborations which investigate more applied forms of learning and memory in healthy and pathological aging. Examples include learning second languages, learning how to use new technologies, and relearning skills and language following brain damage such as that due to stroke.

She currently serves on the editorial boards of Psychology and Aging, Experimental Aging Research, and Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition. She is Director of Georgetown's Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science which offers a minor to undergraduates, and she is Co-Director of the Psychology Department's new graduate program in Developmental Science which offers concentrations in Lifespan Cognitive Neuroscience and in Human Development and Public Policy.


Jeanne Mandelblatt

Dr. Mandelblatt is Professor of Oncology and Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center, and the Director of Cancer Control Program. She is also Director of Cancer and Aging and Cancer Outcomes Research at Lombardi Cancer Center. Dr. Mandelblatt is a geriatrician with training in cancer epidemiology and health services research, and has worked on the clinical, behavioral, and economic aspects of cancer control in older women.

Dr. Mandelblatt has conducted more than a decade of research on issues in access to screening and treatment for breast and cervical cancer among older black women. A major accomplishment of Dr. Mandelblatt's screening work was the inclusion of triennial Pap smears as the first early detection effort covered for Medicare beneficiaries. Dr. Mandelblatt has also conducted research to demonstrate that mammography continues to save life for women after age 65, even in the presence of co-existent medical conditions. Dr. Mandelblatt was a Principal Investigator of the AHCPR-funded PORT evaluating the patterns of care, outcomes, and cost-effectiveness of treatment of early stage disease among newly diagnosed elderly older black and white women.

She is currently conducting a five-year, NIA-funded evaluation of chemotherapy use in older women with breast cancer. This project is being conducted in conjunction with the Cancer and Leukemia Group B cooperative group.

In other work, Dr. Mandelblatt served as a member of the expert panel on "Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine" (1993-1997). Dr. Mandelblatt is also leading two NIH-funded grants to examine cost-effectiveness of cancer screening in older, and older African-American women, and one DOD-funded grant to establish a Clinical Outcomes Core at Lombardi.

In future research, Dr. Mandelblatt is planning to explore the biology of breast cancer and aging.

Madison Powers

Madison Powers is a lawyer with a doctorate in moral and political philosophy from University College Oxford University. His research interests include distributive justice and health care resource allocation, ethical issues in genetics and reproductive decision-making, ethical and legal issues of privacy protection, and the theoretical foundations of utility theory, welfare economics, and health policy analysis. Dr. Powers has taught at Vanderbilt School of Law, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, and is currently Director and Senior Research Scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He has written numerous articles in legal, philosophical and public policy journals and is co-editor, with Ruth Faden and Gail Geller, of AIDS, Women and the Next Generation. With co-investigator Ruth Faden, he is the recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Investigator Award. Drs. Powers and Faden are working on a book on markets and other methods of health care allocation policies with special attention to their impact on the most vulnerable members of society. Dr. Powers currently chairs the National Advisory Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Investigators Award Program, and he has served as a consultant or committee member for national organizations including the National Institutes of Health, the Institute of Medicine, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Department of Energy, and the Privacy Work Group of President Clinton's Health care Task Force.


Steven R. Sabat

Steven R. Sabat is Professor of Psychology at Georgetown University. He earned his doctorate at the City University of New York, where he specialized in Neuropsychology. The main focus of his research has been the intact cognitive and social abilities (including aspects of selfhood) of Alzheimer's disease sufferers in the moderate-to-severe stages of the disease, the experience of having the disease from the sufferer's point of view, and the ways in which communication between the afflicted and their caregivers may be enhanced. In additions, his interests include issues surrounding the epistemological basis of our understanding of the effects of brain injury on human beings. He has explored all of these issues in numerous scientific journal articles and in his recent book, The Experience of Alzheimer's Disease: Life Through a Tangled Veil (Blackwell, 2001).


Pamela Saunders

Pamela A. Saunders is an Assistant Professor in the Neurology Department at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. She is also on the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience program at Georgetown University. She has an MA in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in Sociolinguistics from Georgetown University. Her research interests include communication, aging, and Alzheimer's disease. She has authored several articles on doctor/older patient communication. Currently she is implementing curriculum with medical students about how to communicate with older patients.

Rochelle E. Tractenberg

Rochelle Tractenberg is a Research Assistant Professor in the Center for Population and Health at Georgetown University. She earned an MA in Social Sciences and a PhD in Cognitive Science/Psychology at the University of California, Irvine, and went on to study Biostatistics to earn the M.P.H. from California State University at San Diego. Dr. Tractenberg worked for five years as a biostatistician and scientist with a large national Alzheimer's disease research consortium, and authored or co-authored more than 20 articles, chapters and posters on various aspects of Alzheimer's disease, from quality of life to clinical interventions to instrumentation and methodology. Prior to joining the Alzheimer's research community, Dr. Tractenberg worked in the area of reading and reading development in hearing and deaf persons. Her current areas of interest include psychiatric epidemiology, reading and reading development, research methodology, and neuropsychological issues in Alzheimer's disease and aging.


Diane Yeager

Diane Yeager was awarded a PhD in Religion and Culture by Duke University in 1981 and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University. Her primary specialization is in the field of religious ethics, but she also teaches courses concerning the intersection of religious studies and social theory and courses in philosophical theology (with special emphasis on the impact of scientific knowledge on religious beliefs and theological suppositions). In the field of religious ethics, her work has focused on Christian ethics, moral psychology, and moral epistemology. From 1987 to 1991 she edited the Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics (recently renamed the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics), and from 1991 to 2001, she served as the general editor of The Journal of Religious Ethics. Her current research interests include the bearing of sociological changes and scientific findings on the evolution of moral consensus, and the correlation of age-related shifts in the needs, interests, and value that govern action with the cultivation of the moral virtues necessary to temper those inclinations. Dr. Yeager will serve as a rotating co-principal investigator on this project.


Funding

The Center for Population and Health provided funding for research on aging in two ways:

  • By providing funds for faculty release time and/or pilot research proposals
  • By providing, in cooperation with the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (GUROP), support for students who are interested in doing research on aging.
Faculty and students who are funded under any of these mechanisms were expected to attend the monthly seminars on aging sponsored by the Center and to submit a report at the end of the funding period describing their research progress.

Our goal was to stimulate research on aging, broadly construed. We welcomed applications from scholars in the humanities, and in social, biomedical, and physical sciences. Grants were reviewed by the Steering Committee for the Center for Population and Health Aging Initiative.

These funds were made available from two sources:

  • The Behavioral and Social Research Program of the National Institute on Aging under grant number K07-AG19165, "Infrastructure for Aging and Health Research at Georgetown University"
  • Research funds of the Center for Population and Health and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

If you have questions or suggestions, please get in touch with Maxine Weinstein by e-mail at weinstma@georgetown.edu, or by phone at (202) 687-6748. 


Resources

 

(last updated: January 2015)