The work of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) is placed into focus here, with examples of how they are supporting vital Alzheimer’s disease research in the U.S and further afield
National Institute on Aging (NIA) is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States (U.S.). Their work concerns the leading, “a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of ageing and to extend the healthy, active years of life”. (1) As a primary Federal agency, the National Institute on Aging supports and conducts Alzheimer’s disease research.
When it comes to research on ageing and the health and well-being of older people, the Institute aims to understand the nature of ageing and the process, as well as the diseases and conditions associated with growing older, so that the healthy, active years of life can be extended. The Institute’s mission can be summed up as follows:
- Supporting and conducting biological, clinical, genetic, behavioural, social, and economic research on ageing.
- Fostering the development of research and clinician scientists in the field of ageing.
- Providing resources for research.
- Disseminating information on ageing and advances in research to healthcare professionals, the public, and the scientific community.
In addition, we know that NIA pursues their mission by funding extramural research at medical centres and universities throughout the U.S. and further afield; maintaining an active communication and outreach programme; and conducting research at NIA laboratories in Bethesda and, Baltimore, Maryland. (2)
Alzheimer’s disease research
Looking at one aspect of the Institute’s work, it’s worth noting that Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually slowly destroys both memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks, and as such is irreversible. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults and while it is more common as people grow older, it’s not a normal aspect of ageing according to the Institute. (3)
In recent research news, we find out that researchers have been able to map how Alzheimer’s pathology spreads across brain networks. Recent advances in genetic biomarker research and neuroimaging and genetic biomarker research have enabled scientists to identify two proteins, tau and beta-amyloid, which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s accumulating in the brain over a period of time. It was also discovered that the patterns of tau and beta-amyloid accumulation were related to specific genetic profiles, which helps us to much better understand Alzheimer’s disease risk and possible new avenues for monitoring and diagnosis and monitoring of the disease, in this fitting example of NIA-supported research. (4)
In other topical research news, we learn that taking part in the arts could improve the health, well-being, and independence of older adults. Some specific example identified here include singing group programmes, theatre training, and visual arts for older adults. Lisa Onken, PhD, of NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, shares her thoughts on this most interesting piece of research in her own words.
“Researchers are highly interested in examining if and how participating in arts activities may be linked to improving cognitive function and memory and improving self-esteem and well-being. Scientists are also interested in studying how music can be used to reduce behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as stress, aggression, agitation, and apathy, as well as promoting social interaction, which has multiple psychosocial benefits.”
Picking up on the point about singing programmes identified earlier in this article, it’s interesting to note that in the view of Julene K. Johnson, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing: “There’s a pressing need to develop novel, sustainable, and cost-effective approaches to improve the lives of older adults. Singing in a community choir may be a unique approach to promote the health of diverse older adults by helping them remain active and engaged. It may even reduce health disparities.”
Those who took part in the community choir showed positive results within six months, in particular, it increased interest in life and reduced feelings of loneliness. “The study showed increased interest in life because singing in the choir provided a regular, structured activity for participants,” notes Dr Johnson. “Access to regular activities in diverse, low-income communities is vital for older adults to remain active and engaged in their community.” Looking ahead, we know that NIA is addressing the need for more rigorous research that can demonstrate the efficacy and cost advantage of interventions when it comes to the arts. (5)
In closing, I hope that the examples here demonstrate NIA’s endeavour to lead on scientific efforts, for example, around Alzheimer’s disease research, to understand the nature of ageing and to further the healthy, active years of life for older adults.
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