A Purdue University professor has received a significant grant from the National Institute of Aging. The $1.2 million will support Elliot Friedman's study on why some older adults with multiple chronic medical conditions are more likely to suffer the effects of aging than others.

July 1, 2013

News Release

West Lafayette, Ind. — A Purdue University professor has received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Aging to study why some older adults living with two or more chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, are more likely than others to succumb to the effects of aging.

“The term for living with multiple chronic conditions is multimorbidity, and the implication is that it can lead to disability and mortality. The more conditions you have, the more likely you are to suffer from things we typically associate with aging, such as memory loss, disability or early death,” said Elliot Friedman, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “But some people with multimorbidity have a reasonably high quality of life and remain active. So what are the key differences between these people and the ones who become disabled or cognitively impaired?”

Friedman's five-year study will look mainly at two possible influences for those who live active and longer lives despite having multiple chronic conditions. The first is the role of positive psychosocial factors, such as social support and a strong sense of purpose in life. The second is the involvement of a class of proteins involved in inflammation that are thought to contribute to a number of age-related conditions, including disability and cognitive impairment. The idea is that positive psychosocial factors are protective and will lower the levels of inflammation, leading in turn to lower rates of disability, better cognitive functioning and longer life.

The project will use data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS), which is a long-term study of American adults from the 1990s to this decade. This survey collects individual health information on adults every 10 years.

More than 70 percent of Americans 65 and older have two or more chronic conditions, and that increases to 90 percent in those older than 85. The conditions Friedman will focus on in this study are heart problems, hypertension, cancer, asthma, arthritis, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, obesity, neurological disorders, stroke and ulcers.

“These conditions are often studied individually, with an eye to understanding specific causes and cures,” said Friedman, who specializes in aging issues with emphasis on how psychosocial experiences affect aging and physical health. “But we now have a fair amount of evidence that social and psychological factors can affect your likelihood of getting multiple diseases. As the population ages and the number of adults with these life-altering conditions is growing rapidly, it's becoming more important to understand the role of these non-medical factors in the onset and consequences of age-related diseases.”

Most of the research on multimorbidity looks at the costs and complexities of treatment, such as how treating one condition can affect the treatment for the other.

“Our hope is that this project will contribute new information about how people with multiple chronic conditions can retain a high quality of life in their later years,” Friedman said.

Source: Purdue University

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