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Aging Institute funds six new centers to apply social and behavioral research

November 15, 1993

NIA Press Office | 301-496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) today announced the award of $2.4 million to start six new Centers for Research on Applied Gerontology. The Centers are designed to move promising social and behavioral research findings -- in such areas as computer skills, driving, exercise, caregiving, and nursing home care -- out of the laboratory and into programs that can help improve the lives of older people and their families.

The centers will be established at: Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Ky.; University of Miami, Miami, Fla.; New England Research Institute, Inc., Watertown, Mass.; Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged, Boston, Mass.; and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. The sixth center is a consortium of the University of Georgia, Athens; Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta; and Memphis State University in Tennessee.

Several of the centers' projects feature collaboration between scientists, major corporations, and organizations involved with older people. Findings from the research will be tested with several organizations, including Ryder Systems, IBM Corp., Hartford Insurance Co., and the American Association of Retired Persons. With the aging of the workforce and the growth of the mature market, companies are seeking ways to more effectively meet the needs of older employees and consumers. Researchers will also work with nursing homes, home health agencies, and other groups on projects aimed at providing better health care.

Authorized in 1993, the centers were conceived by retired Congressman Edward R. Roybal, then chairman of the House Select Committee on Aging. They are part of the NIA's mandate to foster research aimed at keeping people independent, active, and productive in later life. "We have some very good research in the social and behavioral sciences. But we need to stimulate efforts to make this research directly useful to people in their daily lives," says Robin A. Barr, Ph.D., chief of the Cognitive Function and Aging Section, NIA. "Cognitive research on aging, for instance, can be applied to change some of the ways that computers are designed and computer tasks are taught. That way, older people will be able to use the machines effectively, an increasingly important skill at work and at home." Barr, Marcia Ory, Ph.D., and Katrina Johnson, Ph.D., of the NIA's Behavioral and Social Research Program, are project officers for the centers.

The principal investigators and their projects are:

Karlene Ball, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University -- The two major projects of the Center to Enhance Mobility in the Elderly are designed to promote independence by maintaining and improving skills needed for safe driving. Ball will build on her earlier work, which suggests that a measure of visual attention, called Useful Field of View (UFOV), may help predict driving competence. Scientists will test a training program for improving UFOV and examine the program's impact on driving performance and driving records. Ball is working with several state motor vehicle departments, Hartford Insurance, the AARP, and several medical schools across the country. A second project will look at the driving performance of older adults before and after cataract surgery to study how improvements in visual function affect driving experience.

Sara Jane Czaja, Ph.D., University of Miami -- Two initial projects at the Center for Human Factors Engineering and Aging Research will focus on work performance, transportation, and living environments. A study of computer skills among older people is based on earlier work by Czaja and others, which showed that older people had significantly longer response time and more errors when using computers. The project will identify the causes of the age-related differences, and scientists will develop ways to redesign training or the work itself to improve the performance of older adults. Once a program is developed, it will be tested at IBM, Ryder, and Prudential Health Care. The second project, investigating cognitive and perceptual abilities needed for driving, will test the use of a driving simulator against traditional classroom instruction for improving driving of older people.

Alan M. Jette, Ph.D., New England Research Institute, Inc., (NERI) -- The NERI Center of Research on Applied Gerontology will look at how physical activity can be promoted to improve function and quality of life for already disabled older people who live in the community. With previous studies indicating that older people drop out of exercise programs within a year, researchers from NERI, Boston University, Brandeis University, and Massachusetts General Hospital are collaborating to develop and test behavioral techniques specially designed to change people's resistance to exercise. They will evaluate a program combining exercise and behavioral interventions aimed at achieving long-term participation in the exercise program. A second field project will assess behavioral interventions for reducing the fear of falling among older adults.

John N. Morris, Ph.D., Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged -- This Center of Research on Applied Gerontology will work with several nursing homes on "functional independence" for nursing home residents. The project addresses goals for independence under rules recently adopted by the Health Care Financing Administration, whose Medicaid program pays for nursing home care for many older people. Morris' project will test ways, including organizational changes, for nursing homes to systematically reset priorities to meet new requirements and needs. A second project focuses on long-term compliance with exercise regimens for frail, older nursing home residents. It will test behavioral approaches for changing the typical nursing home staff's acceptance of an exercise program so that it can be maintained over time.

Denise C. Park, Ph.D., University of Georgia -- The Southeastern Center for Applied Cognitive Aging Research is a consortium of the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Memphis State University. It will study the ability of older adults to function in situations important in daily life, such as taking medications properly and using computers and automatic teller machines. Park's work will develop profiles of people who do not take medication properly, and will provide clinicians with proven strategies for combating the problem. A second project will look at the use of the computer as a social support system, examining how older people use the computer's electronic bulletin boards and other features.

Georgia Tech scientists will design training systems to help older adults in using automated teller machines and public transportation, and in handling Medicare and Medicaid rules, procedures, and bills. Training will be designed so that it can be generally applied in a variety of potential problem areas. Researchers will be working with National Cash Register and other companies.

Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., Cornell University -- The Cornell Center for Research on Applied Gerontology focuses on the social integration of older people in three key areas. Pillemer will investigate the role of social supports for caregivers of relatives with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Other center projects will study the transition to retirement and its implications for paid or volunteer work following initial retirement, and how transportation issues affect social integration of older people outside urban areas. Researchers expect to work with several major corporations based in central New York.

The social and behavioral gerontology centers are the second group of centers to apply research sponsored by the NIA. The Institute's Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers test specific ways to prevent disability and promote physical well-being for older adults.

The NIA is one of the 17 National Institutes of Health. It conducts and supports basic, clinical, epidemiological, and behavioral and social research on aging and the special needs of older people.


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