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NIA Research Focuses on the Increased Risk and Severity of Health Problems As People Age

Older adults are healthier than ever today, but the risk and severity of a number of diseases and conditions increase with age. Much of NIA-supported research focuses on uncovering the molecular and cellular determinants of disease risk as well as the changes that occur with age at the organ, tissue, cellular, and molecular levels that may lead to dysfunction. Some investigators examine age-related processes from multiple perspectives, including those of the genetic, biological, clinical, behavioral, social, and economic sciences. Other studies focus on specific diseases or conditions with increased prevalence as people age. Many of the disease-specific research projects we support are collaborative efforts with other Institutes at the NIH.

  • With increasingly sophisticated technological tools, we hope someday to unravel the mysteries that still surround Alzheimer’s disease, changes in memory and cognition, and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system, and to develop interventions to prevent, diagnose early, and treat these conditions.
  • Exciting developments in our understanding of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes interface with new findings about the basic processes of aging and may soon open doors for personalized approaches to preempt, prevent, or treat these diseases across the lifespan.
  • Better options for helping older adults with vision, hearing, and other sensory disorders will dramatically improve the quality of life for these individuals.
  • For people who suffer from bone, muscle, skin, joint, and movement disorders, new insights about nutrition and exercise, better surgical options, better understanding of the basic biology leading to new therapies, and more user-friendly assistive technology hold promise for helping them lead more comfortable and active lives.
  • Ongoing developments hold promise for finding better ways to help health care providers and caregivers more effectively address a variety of age-associated disorders such as frailty, falls, delirium, incontinence, sleep disturbances, and depression.
  • Researchers are also gaining new insights into the psychological, psychiatric, and social changes that occur with age—from studies of the psychological adaptation to aging and disease to the development of strategies to address the behavioral symptoms of dementia or stress.

NIA-supported research also focuses on the effects of chronic illness and the comorbidities that are so common among older adults. For example, NIA researchers are studying the demonstrated association between certain cardiovascular disorders such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and hyperlipidemia (elevated blood levels of certain types of fat) and the risk for neurological disease and other age-related disorders. Others are investigating the relationship between metabolic disorders such as diabetes and cognitive decline in older adults.