Getting older, staying healthy

Abby King, PhD, is using $3.2 million in stimulus funds to find ways of enabling older adults to stay mobile — and independent — as they age.

Minnie Sarwal, MDOlder adults who can’t easily walk or stand by themselves often are forced to leave their longtime homes and move into a care facility. In addition, a lack of physical stamina leaves them less able to cope with illness, resulting in ever-increasing medical costs.

King is part of a nationwide team of investigators who are searching for strategies that will help adults live healthier, independent lives for as long as possible. She is heading up the Stanford portion of a multisite clinical trial being coordinated by the University of Florida.

King, a professor of health research and policy and of medicine, and her colleagues at the Stanford Prevention Research Center are enrolling 200 sedentary, older adults who will be randomly assigned to one of two health programs. One is a “successful aging” program of interactive workshops on topics such as aging and wellness, disease prevention and treatment, nutrition and stress management. The other will provide moderate-intensity exercise including fitness, strength, flexibility and balance training. The results will show which types of lifestyle measures are likely to help us remain healthy as we age.

Of the $6.5 million award for Stanford’s portion of the six-year study, half is coming from the National Institute on Aging and the other half from the stimulus funds allocated through the National Institutes of Health. These funds are having an immediate effect on the local economy by creating 11 jobs and maintaining seven others connected with the study. The 11 new jobs include an administrative assistant, nine research assistants and a research nurse-practitioner.

Among those filling the new positions are three recent college graduates who now have their first full-time jobs. Additionally, one person scheduled to be laid off has kept her position, a graduate student now has a job that gives him relevant work experience while he completes his advanced degree and a postdoctoral scholar has received some supplemental funding to support additional research experiences related to the trial.