May 2, 2011

Aging-population study aims to improve quality of life for elderly

The National Health and Aging Trends Study, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has begun enrolling study participants to examine how current and future aging populations can lead fuller, healthier lives. The study, which began data collection on May 1, is supported by the National Institute on Aging and is designed to help researchers understand changes in health and functioning among seniors, as well as the social and economic consequences of health and aging for individuals, families and society.

“By 2030 the population of Americans age 65 and older is projected to reach well over 70 million,” said Judith Kasper, principal investigator of the study and a professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “The National Health and Aging Trends Study grew out of the need for a database to monitor the shifting landscape of late life and support the scientific study of how daily life changes as we age. The study is intended as the primary platform for scientific inquiry to guide efforts to reduce disability, maximize functioning and enhance the quality of life among older Americans.”

Nearly 9,000 men and women ages 65 and older who are currently enrolled in Medicare will be invited to participate in the long-term study. Scientific sampling was used to determine a representative group of people throughout the United States. Enrollment in the study is voluntary, and participants will be asked questions in person by trained and easily identified interviewers from Westat, a national research firm that conducts some of the most important health surveys in the U.S. Participants will be surveyed about their health, family and ability to accomplish tasks and to get around their home and community. Data collectors will follow up with participants annually. More information about NHATS and its goals can be found at the study’s website, Study participants will be paid $40 for their contributions.

“The recently observed trend toward decreasing rates of disability identified by the National Long Term Care Survey and other national surveys may have leveled off, and this has serious implications,” said Richard Suzman, director of the National Institute on Aging’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research. “Inability to live independently will add to costs for long-term care and nursing home stays, and reduce well-being among older people. This poses additional challenges for the aging of the baby boom. It’s critical to track the trend and understand its dynamics.”

Added Kasper, “Participation is very important for the success of this study, and each person invited to be in the study represents thousands of others and cannot be replaced. We hope that the people we ask to participate will be able to join and contribute to this important study.”