With grant, Center continues geriatric research

The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at Yale is now in its 21st year.
The Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at Yale is now in its 21st year. Photo by Ken Yanagisawa .

Now in its 21st year, the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at Yale has received funding for five more years of research on health issues that affect the elderly.

As part of the grant renewal, seven Yale University researchers received supprt from the Center for one to two years of investigation on topics that range from examining the causes of delirium in hospitalized older patients to determining how aging couples support each other through disabilities and chronic conditions. Ken Covinksy, who directs the Pepper Center at University of California at San Francisco, said he looks to Yale’s Pepper Center as an example of how to run a successful aging-related research operation.

“When we think of groups who’ve done really good work, we often the think of Yale,” he said.

Yale Pepper Center Director Thomas Gill said that the Center’s mission is to better understand “multifactorial geriatric conditions,” or the complex set of factors that older patients often face, and to develop strategies to prevent geriatric conditions and improve patient outcomes. In total, there are 14 Pepper Centers across the country.

The National Institute on Aging provided the grant for the renewal of the Yale Pepper Center. Acting Chief of the National Institute on Aging Geriatrics Branch Basil Eldadah said Yale’s Pepper Center has made several valuable contributions to research in the field.

“[Yale’s center] was recommended highly by the peer review process, which was a major consideration in our funding decision,” Eldadah said.

Professor of medicine and grant awardee Joan Monin said she plans to conduct research on how couples support each other as they grow older and experience disability and chronic conditions. Particularly as people age, their close relationships become more important because they have fewer interactions with larger groups of people, she said.

The Center supports researchers by conducting workshops in which doctors share their ideas, planning faculty retreats where researchers collaborate with one another and hosting seminars for physicians to share their unique perspectives, she added.

The Pepper Center is instrumental in training investigators to conduct research on aging populations, said professor of medicine Manisha Juthani-Mehta, one of the grant awardees. During her 10 years with the Center, Juthani-Mehta has learned from others at the center how to conduct research on community-based populations.

“All of the pieces of the Center work together to make a study operate efficiently and have results that are meaningful,” she said.

The environment at the Pepper Center is particularly rich because researchers with the same specialties can gather to share their knowledge, leverage one another’s work and borrow one another’s data management code, said professor of medicine Terrence Murphy, a grant awardee.

Murphy plans to conduct research on the association between the dosage of an antipsychotic drug called Haldol given to older patients in intensive care units and the occurrence of delirium, a state of severe confusion and temporary memory loss that can increase the chance of death, Murphy said.

“Everyone’s clear that Haldol addresses agitation,” he said. “But it might actually do that so well that it results in longer periods of delirium.”

The Center is currently receiving letters of intent from Yale medical researchers who wish to apply for a 2014 research grant.

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