Geriatrics researchers and clinicians hope new ideas discussed at the “Pillars of Aging” conference hosted by the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), with support from The John A. Hartford Foundation—can lead to better and more effective interventions by targeting the aging process itself rather than the symptoms.
A major theme that emerged was the importance of accelerating research is translated into promising clinical practice. Suggestions included integrating aging concepts into research conducted by “subspecialists” in particular areas of medicine; creating a national, diverse “geroscience biobank” attuned to exploring multimorbidity and frailty in particular; incorporating “precision medicine” as a catalyst for individualized healthcare delivery; using existing databases like the Baltimore Study of Longitudinal Aging to forge collaborations and inform early-stage hypotheses; and creating a standardized “outcomes toolkit” to help bridge the gap between studies of aging and supports for our well-being as we age.
These ideas were floated in a 2016 conference for recipients of the NIA’s Grants for Early Medical/Surgical Specialists Transition into Aging Research (GEMSSTAR) program. It brought together more than 100 scholars, researchers, leaders representing 19 medical specialties, and NIA representatives to stimulate research across the disciplines involved in high-quality, person-centered care. Conference findings have recently been published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and detail how new methods of studying the older-adult population can reveal new tools and accelerate innovative treatments focused on big-picture outcomes important to people’s lives, such as function and independence.
The conference organizers took the approach of focusing on aging itself as a primary factor impacting multiple chronic diseases and the declining ability to rebound from health challenges (also known as “resilience”). In doing so, GEMSSTAR scholars took a step closer to targeting age-related mechanisms which might delay, prevent, or even reverse geriatric syndromes, age-related chronic diseases, and declines in resilience. Conference sessions also focused on new methods and strategies for studying these aspects of aging, and reviewed the challenges of studying age when older people often have been excluded from medical research.
“Aging is complex and varies from one person to the next, but there’s a growing body of evidence that aging itself is driven by interconnected biological factors we call ‘hallmarks’ or ‘pillars.’” … “We believe disrupting these hallmarks—which cover everything from the stability of our genes to ways our cells communicate—can contribute to chronic disease and frailty, which is why a better understanding of how they work is so important.” – Christopher Carpenter, MD, MSc, FACEP, FAAEM, AGSF, one of the co-authors of a report on the conference