With age, most of us will face some combination of medical problems, cognitive changes, anxiety, depression or the stress of being a caregiver. The good news is that much of what comes with aging can be managed — and it is this management that can improve quality of life markedly in later life. Our Program focuses on research and policy to improve mental health care and dementia care for older adults and their families/caregivers.
Later-life mental health care and positive aging
We research the most prevalent and critical issues in mental health and aging including: later-life depression, anxiety, and substance use/abuse. We dedicatedly look for ways to link our findings with clinical practice and public policy. Given the shortage of specialists in mental health and aging, we also are creating and disseminating innovative educational approaches to train providers and the next generation of physicians in the provision of state-of-the-art clinical care for older adults with mental illness or dementia.
For example, later-life depression affects a significant proportion of older adults, and is often linked with cognitive impairment. Thus, it is critical to find better ways to assess and manage depression in older adults. We focus on improving outcomes and finding innovative ways to help older adults manage depression, including those in underserved communities and minorities. The PPA sees older adults as part of a generation with wisdom, experience and knowledge that benefits society; by treating their depression, we can “get them back in the game”.
Another area of key interest for the PPA is researching ways to help older adults age more positively by examining modalities such as mindfulness and innovative sleep interventions. While the media touts “super-agers”, who remain illness-free and run marathons in their nineties, the reality is that those blessed with the genetics to age without any disease or disability are the minority. Thus, helping older adults age well with whatever “cards they have been dealt” is of vital importance to the PPA.
Dementia care and caregiving
Currently there is no cure for dementia, with any such disease-altering treatment at least 10-20 years in the future. With the aging of the population, the prevalence of dementia will triple by 2030.
PPA research focuses on improving care for those people with dementia and their families in the here and now; researching preventative strategies; and finding the best way to assist, train and support family and other caregivers who are so critical to dementia and care management.
A particular focus is increasing the use of non-pharmacologic (environmental, behavioral) treatment of challenging behavioral symptoms of dementia by training caregivers through innovative PPA programs.
The Program for Positive Aging was founded in 2009 in order to focus on 1) mental health and aging and 2) dementia care research that would improve the lives of older adults and their families/caregivers. PPA founder Dr. Helen Kales envisioned a Program that focused on the strengths of older adults and their caregivers rather than solely on their illnesses and limitations. In the seven years since its founding, the PPA has received fourteen federal research grants and eleven foundation research grants for its work. The care approaches it has created have achieved national and international acclaim.
Visit the Program for Positive Aging website for more information.