The University Record, June 3, 2002

Older adults focus of events

By Laurel Gnagey

We’ve read the headlines that say Americans are getting older every year. While advances in medical science have resulted in life expectancy increases averaging four months per year since 1970, researchers say there still is much to be learned about health in old age. But they say it is not easy to get long-term information about older adults for a number of reasons.

In the opening session of the “Retreat on Health Dynamics in Old Age,” Robert Wallace, professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said there are many factors that hinder both qualitative and quantitative longitudinal studies of older adults. From the different ways in which the same disease exhibits in people to the multiplicity of health care providers for any one patient, Wallace says it is difficult to get good data over a long period of time. Add to this issues of cognitive impairment caused by illness and age, and negative responses to the environmental factors such as weather, socioeconomic conditions and elder abuse, and Wallace says it becomes more difficult to track an individual’s aging and disease processes.

“We’re missing a lot about the ailments of older people,” Wallace told the group attending the retreat held last week in the Medical School’s Towsley Center. Because humans are not created equally in terms of biology or environment, Wallace said successful long-term studies should begin early. “When do you start studying aging—probably at conception.”

The retreat was one of two back-to-back Geriatrics Center events dedicated to learning more about older adults. The Biology of Aging is the focus of a series of lectures this week. Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease and a number of other illnesses often associated with the aging process will be discussed in terms of the most recent biological developments. The lecture series began June 2 and runs through June 6. The event is being held in conjunction with the Nathan Shock Center for the Biology of Aging. All lectures are in the Vandenberg Room of the Michigan League. For a complete schedule visit the Web at

The “Retreat on Health Dynamics in Old Age” was co-sponsored by the Claude Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, the Health and Retirement Study, and Michigan Center of the Demography of Aging.