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New research HUB will address challenges associated with aging population

The number of older Americans is steadily rising and persons aged 65 and older are expected to make up nearly a quarter of the population by 2060. Recognizing the health and societal implications of our nation’s demographic shifts, the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing is finding ways to address a wide range of challenges that will arise as the population ages.

The School of Nursing is launching a new research hub that is focused on aging and gerontological nursing. While the long-term goal of the hub is to establish Pitt Nursing as a leader in federally funded research on aging and gerontological nursing, the short-term goal is to identify priority areas and collaborative opportunities for research on gerontology, aging and care of the older adult.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows at least 52 million Americans are aged 65 years and older and account for 16% of the U.S. population. That number is expected to rise to 95 million by 2060, accounting for 23% of the population.

“While this trend reflects significant advances in public health, disease prevention, and the treatment of major chronic disorders, advanced age remains a key factor for a number of serious health conditions which are likely to rise in parallel to the nation’s demographic changes,” according to the HUB proposal. “Therefore, the need for a robust and rigorous evidence base to promote health aging and optimize the care of those with aging-related comorbidities has never been greater.”

The HUB will bring together both established leaders and rising stars of research at the School of Nursing who will collaborate on issues related to aging and gerontological nursing like osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, palliative care, health disparities, mobility, and caregiving. Led by Yurun Cai, PhD, RN, assistant professor, the HUB’s first pilot study will examine physical activity levels and their impact on cognitive function and cognitive impairment risk.

“Dr. Cai’s study is significant because understanding the link between complexity of daily physical activity patterns and trajectories of cognitive decline across multiple domains has the potential to yield new insights into the underlying mechanisms connecting motor dysfunction to brain aging, and identifying altered complexity of activity patterns as preclinical indicators of cognitive impairment will suggest novel directions for tailored interventions to further prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia and related disorders,” according to the HUB leader, Dr. Jennifer Lingler.