The combination of Hebrew SeniorLife's residential, medical and research resources helps distinguish the Institute for Aging Research (IFAR) from other facilities devoted to this area of study. IFAR is the largest gerontological research facility located in an applied setting. This environment provides a valuable opportunity to conduct rigorous clinical investigations into disabling geriatric syndromes and readily apply the findings to the care of older patients.
Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of how this special relationship between Hebrew SeniorLife residents and IFAR researchers can work is a 1994 study that discovered the benefits of weight training for even the oldest old. Hebrew Rehabilitation Center residents took part in an IFAR study that examined whether progressive weight training could combat or reverse muscle weakness experienced by adults as they age. This muscle weakness can contribute to functional decline and put many seniors at risk for falls.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that seniors at any age could build muscle strength through weight training and revolutionized how health-care professionals view aging. Following the study, exercise programs were developed and institutionalized at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Today, Hebrew SeniorLife offers exercise programs to all residents within its continuum of care, as well as to seniors from surrounding communities.
IFAR's history includes many other accomplishments. It attracted the first chairs in geriatric medicine at any of the teaching hospitals that train Harvard Medical School students and at any long-term care facility in the country. The Irving and Edyth S. Usen and Family Chair in Medical Research provides endowment support for Co-director Lewis A. Lipsitz, M.D., to run a clinical research program devoted to improving quality of life and health for frail seniors. The Alfred A. and Gilda Slifka Chair in Social Gerontological Research allows IFAR Co-director John N. Morris, Ph.D., to continue building the Division of Social Gerontological Research.
With support from the Milton & Shirley F. Levy Family Chair in Alzheimer's Disease, the Institute for Aging Research established an important new program in 2005 called the Aging Brain Center. Sharon K. Inouye, M.D., M.P.H., one of the nation's leading gerontological scientists, joined IFAR to head the center and was appointed as a full professor at Harvard Medical School.
Another Institute for Aging Research strength is the multidisciplinary nature of its faculty, which includes both social and medical research scientists. Common age-related conditions including falls, urinary incontinence, confusion, physical decline, and depression are the result of multiple interacting factors such as multiple organ system abnormalities, drugs, social situations, and psychological problems. Better understanding geriatric syndromes, and finding new treatments and preventions, requires the collaborative effort of a multidisciplinary team. In addition, the efforts of IFAR scientists are enhanced by Hebrew SenriorLife's long-standing relationship with many academic institutions within Boston's rich research community, including its affiliation with Harvard Medical School.
As a result of all of these qualities, the Institute for Aging Research has been able to attract outstanding National Institutes of Health-funded scientists. The results of their studies are regularly accepted for publication by leading peer-reviewed journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Active areas of research include:
- clinical geriatric syndromes such as falls, syncope (fainting), delirium (acute confusion), congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis;
- Alzheimer's disease and related disorders;
- resident assessment and care models in nursing homes;
- improving the quality of end-of-life care;
- the cost and quality of housing and community-based systems;
- organizational care models for seniors, the development of instruments to measure quality of life and functional outcomes, and tools to better assess seniors at risk of cognitive and functional decline.