Health Disparities Research at NIA
NIA seeks to understand the environmental, sociocultural, behavioral, and biological drivers of health inequities and disparities related to aging and diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. We support research to develop strategies for the improvement of health among midlife and older adults in underrepresented groups who experience health inequities or disparities. These priorities are outlined in NIA’s strategic directions for health disparities research and reflected within NIA’s Health Disparities Research Framework.
Learn about NIA-funded research on health disparities:
- NIA Research on Health Disparities
- Diversity Among Participants in NIA-Funded Clinical Research
- NIH-Wide Initiatives Into Improving Health Disparities Research
NIA Research on Health Disparities
Many complex and interconnected factors can affect older adults’ health and quality of life. To develop and implement effective interventions to address health disparities among various populations, NIA supports and conducts research to:
- Identify and understand environmental, social, cultural, behavioral, and biological factors that create and sustain health disparities among older adults.
- Develop strategies to promote active life expectancy and improve the health status of older adults in diverse populations.
- Develop and implement strategies to increase inclusion of underrepresented populations in aging research.
- Support research on women’s health, including studies of how sex and gender influence aging processes and outcomes.
Explore NIA’s health disparities research resources below:
- Funding Opportunities: Researchers interested in health disparities and aging research can contact program officers for specific areas of interest, and learn how to find NIA funding opportunities, apply for grants and funding, and how the NIA peer review process works. Also see a full list of NIA funding opportunities, including opportunities focused on Alzheimer’s and related dementias and for small businesses.
- NIA Health Disparities Research Framework: The framework is overseen by the Office of Special Populations (OSP) and outlines four key levels of analysis related to disparities research — environmental, sociocultural, behavioral, and biological — with priority focus areas in each category. Using the framework as a guide, NIA has awarded more than $250 million in research awards since 2015 to explore and address these determinants of health disparities related to aging.
- National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease: This plan provides a framework for reaching our nation’s goal of effectively preventing and treating Alzheimer’s and related dementias by 2025. To this end, NIA led the development of implementation research milestones, which include research on health disparities in Alzheimer’s and related dementias and recruitment and participation of diverse participants clinical studies.
- Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR): Located at universities across the United States, these Centers focus on health disparities and minority aging issues as a major part of their research education programs. In addition to fostering and supporting the next generation of diverse aging researchers, a key goal of the RCMAR program is to develop infrastructure to promote advances in health disparities and the health and well-being of minority older adults. In 2018, the RCMAR program was expanded to support additional centers focused on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias research.
- National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA): For decades, NACA has convened the Task Force on Minority Aging Research as part of its meetings three times each year. Managed by OSP and the NIA Minority Working Group, this task force was created to advise NACA on initiatives to increase the representation of underrepresented groups in aging research. The task force shares a summary of NIA’s diversity programs and initiatives, including updates on meetings and conferences, diversity and health disparities research, and training programs and initiatives. NIA often invites renowned health-disparities-in-aging researchers to present at NACA.
- NIA IRP Health Disparities Research Section: NIA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) scientists conduct a broad range of multidisciplinary, investigator-initiated research, including studies on health conditions and aging in diverse populations. Goals include investigating the biology of health disparities in the context of aging and disentangling the interaction between socioeconomic status and race in the development of age-associated health disparities.
Advancing Diversity in Clinical Trials
Recruiting a diverse range of clinical trial participants — including people of different races, ethnicities, genders, and ages — is crucial to better addressing and overcoming disparities in health and well-being.
Diversity Among Participants in NIA-Funded Clinical Research
One of the biggest hurdles in advancing research is recruitment and retention of clinical study and trial participants, particularly those from underrepresented populations. NIA seeks to engage a more diverse range of older adults for the many clinical trials and studies it conducts and supports, including prevention and intervention trials on Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
- NIA National Strategy for the Recruitment and Participation in Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Clinical Research: As part of the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, NIA intensified efforts to outline practical, proactive approaches to help researchers recruit and retain diverse volunteers for a growing number of studies in Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Developed with the Alzheimer’s Association and other stakeholders, the National Strategy focuses on four overarching themes: increasing awareness and engagement nationally, building and improving capacity and infrastructure at study sites, engaging local communities and support participants, and developing an applied science of recruitment.
- Clinical Research Operations and Management System (CROMS): This system provides the capability to track, report, and manage NIA grantee clinical research data — including participant enrollment in supported studies — and other scientific portfolio activities in real time. CROMS is enabling NIA and its funded investigators to intervene early to understand and assist with enrollment challenges and support recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations in Alzheimer’s and related dementias research.
- Outreach Pro: This online research tool aims to increase participation by traditionally underrepresented populations in clinical trials and studies on Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Outreach Pro enables those involved with leading clinical research to create and customize participant recruitment communications such as websites, handouts, videos, and social media posts.
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia Outreach, Recruitment & Engagement (ADORE): This repository is a searchable collection of resources on topics related to the engagement, recruitment, and retention of diverse participants in dementia clinical trials and studies. Researchers, community advocates, and study coordinators can search the ADORE database to find materials and strategies to help recruit participants.
NIH-Wide Initiatives Into Improving Health Disparities Research
NIA also participates in NIH-wide health disparities research initiatives including:
- NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities initiative: The goal of this initiative is to build long-lasting partnerships in communities hardest hit by COVID-19, as well as to improve diversity and inclusion in our research response to this pandemic.
- Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative: This NIH initiative was developed to speed innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of technologies for COVID-19 testing. NIA co-led the Rapid Diagnostic Accelerator for Underrepresented Populations (RADxUP) funding opportunity announcements, which are focused on COVID-19 vulnerable populations. NIA also co-led NIH efforts to strengthen data collection on COVID-19 to rapidly assess the needs and impact of COVID-19 across different population groups, particularly vulnerable populations. Learn more about NIA’s support of the RADx initiative.
- NIH Inclusion Across the Lifespan policy: NIA has played a leadership role in guiding this policy and convening biannual workshops to support updating and implementing this policy in clinical research. The policy mandates that diverse participants of all ages be included in human research, particularly children, older adults, and underrepresented/underserved populations, unless there is a scientific or ethical reason for exclusion of any age category. These groups have specific and unique health issues that must be examined as we study new interventions that ultimately inform health care.
- UNITE: NIA strongly supports UNITE, NIH’s initiative to end structural racism and racial inequities in biomedical and behavioral research. A collaborative, NIH-wide effort, UNITE is designed to establish an equitable and civil culture within the biomedical research enterprise and to reduce barriers to racial equity in the biomedical research workforce. Learn more from the NIH UNITE Progress Report.