GAINESVILLE, Fla.---To address the many challenges faced by the state's increasing elderly population - such as the threat of Alzheimer's disease, the rising cost of prescription drugs and inaccurate public perceptions - the University of Florida has created a new Institute on Aging.
As the state with the largest proportion of the population over 65, Florida is focusing on issues other states will need to address in the next 25 years as their own residents age. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the national elderly population will more than double by 2050, to 80 million.
"The decision to establish the Institute on Aging shows the value the university places on this topic and its commitment to putting the resources and energy behind making UF a premier academic environment for aging-related research and education," said Jeffrey Dwyer, a national leader in gerontology research and health policy who is director of the new institute.
"We want to provide the older people of Florida and their families with the kind of research and education that they should have to make their lives better," said Dwyer, an expert in long-term care, health services research, family caregiving and health-care needs of disadvantaged elders.
The institute, which was approved Sept. 24 by the Florida Board of Regents, will build upon nearly 50 years of aging-related research at UF. It will serve as an umbrella organization to foster multidisciplinary research, education and service, stimulate increased funding and influence public policy.
With more than 350 faculty members currently conducting related research and teaching -- a figure that is expected to grow -- the institute will strengthen existing efforts campuswide, such as those in the colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Health and Human Performance, and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Members of the institute also will work closely with Shands HealthCare in the delivery of clinical services.
"The Institute on Aging will take advantage of the breadth of expertise in the Health Science Center and across the UF campus," said Dr. Kenneth I. Berns, UF's interim vice president for health affairs. "The effort will be tremendously enhanced by our partnership with the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, which is planning a major effort in aging at the Lake City site that will be staffed by faculty from UF."
"The faculty working with this institute are having a direct impact on real-world situations," said Will Harrison, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "For example, there are sociologists studying grandparenting and intergenerational relationships, and psychologists working to develop new insights into memory loss."
Dwyer, a UF graduate and former faculty member, was recruited back to Gainesville from Wayne State University in Detroit, where he built a nationally recognized multidisciplinary program in gerontology. He is a professor and head of the division of aging in the UF College of Medicine's department of health policy and epidemiology. He also will coordinate the development of a regional Geriatric Center of Excellence, to be based at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lake City.
UF faculty will pursue a broad range of activities to carry out the institute's mission:
* They will continue with current research efforts, such as projects to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Having discovered in the early 1990s that estrogen can protect nerve cells attacked by Alzheimer's, UF researchers are testing a non-feminizing estrogen compound that potentially could benefit men as well as those women who do not need extra estrogen.
* They will explore new areas of research and education. Efforts may include work with assistive devices, engineering projects, as well as inquiries in the humanities that may look at such issues as how older people are portrayed in art, Dwyer said.
* They will expand aging-related curriculum offerings at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
"We want to position ourselves to make a significant contribution to the education of practitioners from diverse fields who have an interest in aging," said Robin West, associate director of the institute who also directs the Center for Gerontological Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
* They also will emphasize "aging well" by working to identify programs and interventions that can contribute to the active and healthy life of an older individual.
"We have an obligation to more directly affect public opinion, by disseminating information about our research findings, making public presentations and other activities," Dwyer said. "These efforts really seek to point out that when you hit the age of 60 you are as likely to live another 20 years -- most of it healthy and active -- as you are to have health problems, but this is not a widely held perception yet in the public."
"The Institute on Aging provides a great opportunity for the University of Florida to bring together nationally prominent talent on this important issue," said Winfred M. Phillips, UF vice president for research and dean of the graduate school. "The state's demographics highlight the need for a broader spectrum of expertise in the field and the university is pleased to be the focus of this initiative."
For more information about the UF Institute on Aging, visit its Web site at http://www.aging.ufl.edu.
Materials provided by University Of Florida Health Science Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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