UF researchers hope to slow aging, ease “disabled years'
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 9, 2013 at 6:43 p.m.
An institute at the University of Florida would likely make legendary broadcast journalist Andy Rooney proud.
Rooney quipped that everyone wants to live a long life, but no one wants to get old, and UF's Institute on Aging is dedicated to research on slowing or reversing certain aging processes that can sour the golden years.
“If we can slow the process (of aging) it will be a great success … and expand active life expectancy,” said Marco Pahor, the institute's director, at its fourth annual research day on Monday. The event was held at the institute's home in the new Clinical and Translational Research Building, which opened last month.
Pahor added that much of the institute's research focuses on compressing the “disabled years” in which people often live with chronic inactivity and pain — conditions that are both physically unpleasant and costly.
“This is a major burden on the health care system. So far most of the interventions are reactive. But we want to prevent physical and cognitive decline,” just as there have been successful preventive measures for cancer and heart disease, Pahor said.
The research day brought together doctors and researchers from several departments at UF, since the institute is an interdisciplinary creation that is unique for that in the U.S., according to Pahor.
The institute itself started eight years ago and has expanded to include more research on cognitive decline and not just physical decline related to aging.
At Monday's conference, several speakers addressed recent research topics, and a poster session highlighted other ongoing research.
Roger Fillingim, a professor at the UF College of Dentistry and director of UF's newly formed Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence (PRICE), spoke about the prevalence of pain among the elderly.
About 100 million people in the U.S. suffer from pain, which costs the health care system about $635 billion annually, Fillingim said, citing Institute of Medicine data.
That's more than the expenditures for cancer, AIDS and heart disease combined, he added.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of pain experienced by the elderly, followed by back pain, Fillingim said.
While a lot of pain medications and complementary therapies involving physical therapy and psychological interventions exist, insurance generally doesn't cover them, which becomes a real obstacle for less advantaged people, he added.
“Our goal is to reduce pain-related suffering with cutting-edge research,” he added. “Pain is a major public health issue so we need all the help we can get.”
Studies showcased in the poster session looked at the increasing trend of young people being called upon to care for elderly relatives. A UF survey of 1,500 college students found that 12-18 percent were caregivers. More than one-third of those were first-generation college students, and many were ethnic minorities who had grown up in a household with at least one grandparent.
The researchers attributed the trend of young caregivers to the economic downturn, which has put an onus on the young to care for their elders. One researcher speculated that older parents (those who begin families later in life) might also account for the trend.
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