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New Study Looks for Ways to Delay Disability in Older Adults

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – As the life expectancy of Americans increases, learning how to prevent or delay age-related physical disability has become a major health priority. Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is one of four centers in the country that will study whether physical activity and other lifestyle changes can help older adults retain their independence.

The Lifestyle Intervention and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study, funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), will include 400 adults who are 70 to 85 years old. It will especially target those who are having difficulty doing daily activities such as walking, getting out of chairs or climbing stairs.

The LIFE study is also being conducted in Dallas, Texas, Palo Alto, Calif., and Pittsburgh, Pa.

“Other studies have looked at pieces of the disability puzzle, such as seeing whether increasing muscle strength affects the ability to walk further, said Stephen B. Kritchevsky, Ph.D., director of the Wake Forest Baptist study site. “But we want to answer the larger question: Does a program of activity or change in lifestyle patterns prevent physical disability? Our goal is to find strategies that will help people remain independent longer so they can live in their own homes and participate in the day-to-day activities.”

Study participants will be randomly assigned to one of two health programs. One group will attend classes and demonstrations promoting successful aging that will include topics like nutrition, communicating with health-care professionals and foot care. The other group will participate in moderate-intensity physical activity that includes aerobic, strength and flexibility training.

Participants will receive free health screenings during the one-year study.

“During the course of their lives, about half of all persons age 65 years or older will become so severely disabled as to need a nursing home admission,” said Marco Pahor, M.D., the overall study director, from Wake Forest Baptist. “What we learn in LIFE has the promise of benefiting a very large segment of the older population.”

In addition to Kritchevsky, the local investigators are Steve Blair, M.S., P.E.D., at the Cooper Institute, Dallas, Texas; Abby King, Ph.D., at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif; and Anne Newman, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pa.

The centers are currently recruiting participants for the study that begins in April. For more information, or to learn more about the LIFE study, call the Geriatric Research Center at 336-713-8539.

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Contacts: Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu; Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu; at 336-716-4587.

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