Health & Retirement Study receives more than $19 million
in federal stimulus funds

The U-M Health & Retirement Study, conducted by the Institute for Social Research (ISR), has been awarded four grants totaling more than $19 million over the next two years, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has announced.

The awards are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, and will supplement the cooperative agreement between ISR and NIA, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

"The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is truly a national resource for scholars and policy makers interested in the health and economic conditions of Americans over the age of 50," says ISR Director James Jackson. "We are delighted to have the opportunity to enhance the usefulness of this long-term research project with these new stimulus funds."

"Since it began in 1992, the HRS has provided a wealth of information on the physical and economic health of older Americans," says NIA Director Richard Hodes. "With this infusion of Recovery Act funds, we can augment the quality of the data we are collecting, expand minority participation in the study cohort, and add genetic analysis to the study.

The awards focus on data collection in four crucial areas:

• Enroll approximately 3,000 new HRS participants by adding more than 1,000 African Americans and more than 1,000 Hispanics. By more than doubling the number of minority adults in the study between the ages of 51 and 61, HRS researchers will be able to perform enriched analyses of this traditionally understudied segment of the population.

• Repeat the collection of biomarker and psychosocial data in 2010 through face-to-face interviews with approximately 9,200 participants, who first received these measures in 2006. This will enable researchers to analyze changes in these measures over time, link changes to other life circumstances and health events, and examine how change occurs across the broad age range of older persons represented in HRS.

• Conduct genomewide scans of previously collected saliva samples from approximately 13,000 HRS participants. As a result, researchers will be able to perform multiple association studies to identify potential genetic risks and influences on a broad range of health conditions as well as social and behavioral aspects of normal aging and to better understand the environmental contexts in which genetic risk and protective factors are expressed.

• Conduct follow-up research to the 2001-03 Aging, Demographics and Memory Study to establish a consensus diagnosis of dementia, cognitive impairment without dementia or normal cognition for individuals in a subsample of 120 HRS participants age 70 or older. This will set the stage to better understand trends in the prevalence, causes and outcomes of dementia in the United States.

Integral to the success of the proposed expansion in the minority cohort, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has increased its long-standing support of the HRS, providing an additional $3 million over the next two years. These funds provide support for the interviews of the new minority sample expansion. SSA's participation also will include linkages to pension and earnings data for these new members of the HRS.

"We are gratified by the commitment of the Social Security Administration to the enlargement of the Health and Retirement Study's minority sample," says Richard Suzman, director of NIA's Division of Behavioral and Social Research, who was instrumental in conceptualizing and starting the study two decades ago. "This will allow for more in-depth analyses of minority population data, which is critically important at a time when the older population is becoming more diverse."

"The HRS is an outstanding partnership between government and academic research and these new funds will create exciting new opportunities for the thousands of researchers around the country and around the world who make use of this great resource," says ISR economist David Weir, principal investigator of the HRS.