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Population and Social Processes Branch

This Branch supports research and data infrastructure development projects on how demographic, social, economic, institutional, geographic, and other factors at the population level influence health and mortality at older ages. “Health” is broadly defined to include physical and cognitive functioning (including Alzheimer’s Disease-related dementias, ADRD), disability, morbidity, and well-being. Research is encouraged that develops and uses longitudinal cohort data with measures of early life experiences and late life outcomes to study the factors that explain trends, dynamics and disparities in these outcomes. PSP is especially interested in:

  • Elucidating life course pathways leading to disparities in health outcomes.
  • Unpacking socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity as risk factors to better understand the mechanisms by which they create disparities in health.
  • International and comparative research to further our understanding of how different social, familial, environmental, geographic, cultural and institutional contexts influence the aging process.
  • Interdisciplinary research with connections to biological, genetic, psychological, behavioral and interpersonal processes.
  • Research at multiple levels of analysis (i.e. approaches that recognize that individuals are organized within different and overlapping levels of organization).
  • Population-level interventions to improve health, health delivery, quality of care, and to reduce health disparities.

A diverse set of analytic methods is encouraged, including life-cycle, comparative, geographic distribution, rural/urban, cohort and multi-level. Collaboration with NIA Center Programs is encouraged to enhance interdisciplinary research; the six NIA Center Programs are: Alzheimer's Disease Centers, Centers on the Demography and Economics of Aging, Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers, Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translation Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences of Aging, Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, and Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research.

Branch Chief:
John W.R. Phillips, Ph.D.

Program Officers:
Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.
Elena Fazio, Ph.D.
Amelia Karraker, Ph.D.
Georgeanne Patmios, M.A.

Research Program Analyst:
Prisca N. Fall, M.A.

Program Consultant in Genetics:
Jonathan King, Ph.D.

AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow:
Emerald T. Nguyen, Ph.D.

Demography, Sociology, and Social Epidemiology

This Program fosters research on 1) population trends at older ages in physical and cognitive functioning (including AD/ADRD), disability, morbidity, mortality, health and well-being and 2) the elucidation of mechanisms through which socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and other factors operate as risk factors for poor health and health disparities. This includes research on the effect of demographic processes (cohort replacement, population aging, generational change in family and social structures, population composition); compositional effects on incidence, prevalence, and impact of health conditions; and life course pathways by which social, behavioral, psychological, environmental and structural risk and protective factors lead to health outcomes. Additional topics of interest include:

  • Age trajectories of health.
  • Life expectancy and active life expectancy.
  • Demographic modeling, including projections.
  • Causes and consequences of changes in the age- and family-structure of populations for the care and well-being of older people with disease (including ADRD) and disability.
  • Interactions between health and socioeconomic status over time and across generations.
  • Geographic distribution and regional differences in health.
  • Integration of demographic and biological theory and methods to study the impact of aging on health and longevity.
  • The effect on health of social networks and social contexts, and vice versa.
  • Interrelationships between work, family, and health.
  • The consequences of work trajectories for health outcomes at older ages.
  • Estimation of the population level impact of social and behavioral randomized control trials (RCTs).
  • Testing interventions at the population level that are aimed at improving health of older people.
  • Studies that develop data on national (and international) prevalence and trends in disease (including ADRD) and disability affecting older people.

Program Contacts:

Georgeanne Patmios, M.A.
Amelia Karraker, Ph.D.
Elena Fazio, Ph.D.

Population Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology of Aging

Many of the richly phenotyped population-based longitudinal surveys supported by NIA/BSR now have genotype data available. Using these data, as well as data from other longitudinal cohorts, to answer important questions in the social and population sciences is encouraged. Examples include:

  • The use of genetic approaches in population and economic studies of aging.
  • The inclusion of genetic information in social science models for improved causal inference.
  • The inclusion of social and economic information in genetic studies to improve understanding of variation across populations.
  • Projects in biodemography of aging that make use of genetic and epigenetic information.
  • Genetic epidemiology of behavioral, social, and economic traits relevant to aging.

Approaches of interest include genome-wide association studies (GWAS); epigenetic and gene expression studies; gene-by-environment interaction studies; and analyses that leverage polygenic scores.

Program Contact:

Amelia Karraker, Ph.D.

Health Systems

This Program encourages research on the impact of health care services, the health care system, and long-term supports and services (LTSS), including organizational influences, on the health and well-being of older persons with chronic disease, disability and AD/ADRD, and on their care providers. Special emphasis is on 1) reduction of health disparities and 2) how older people and their families deal with care coordination for multiple conditions. Examples include:

  • Trajectories of care across acute care systems, short stay programs and long-term care services in different home and community-based settings, and consequences for health outcomes.
  • Research on (new) models of care and care delivery to improve quality of care and health outcomes.
  • Population-level interventions in health care and LTSS systems to improve quality of care and health outcomes.
  • Health services and health care financing for older people with multiple chronic conditions.
  • Provider-level and regional variation in health expenditures, services, and outcomes for older persons.
  • U.S. and comparative cross-national studies of the impact of different health and LTSS systems on outcomes at older ages.

Program Contacts:

Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D. (acute and post-acute care)
Elena Fazio, Ph.D. (institutional and community-based LTSS, and AD/ADRD research)

Economics of Aging

Research in this Program uses economic methods, theories and concepts to study the health and well-being of older people and to reduce health disparities. Examples include:

  • How environmental, social, economic, institutional, structural, and other factors affect health and well-being, including health-related behaviors, healthcare utilization, health disparities, and responses to public health interventions.

  • Applications of behavioral economics to improve health, health delivery, and quality of care.

  • How innovations in treatment, diagnosis, prevention, and implementation strategies can be most effectively deployed to improve health and well-being of older people.
  • The economic impact on individuals, families, and society of evidence-based changes in health practice and health policy affecting older people.
  • The role of decision-making by older people and their health care providers to improve health and well-being outcomes.
  • Research on how to change consumer choice and consumer behaviors to improve health of older people.
  • Designs for more cost-effective population interventions to improve quality of care, health and well-being.
  • Estimation of the population level impact of RCTs designed to improve health of older people and their care providers.
  • The relationship between labor force participation and health and disability at older ages.
  • The economic impact on older individuals, families and society of disease (including ADRD), disability and long-term care.
  • The implications of population aging/demographic change on societal outcomes, including health and well-being of older adults.

Program Contacts:

Partha Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.
Georgeanne Patmios, M.A.