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Well-aged care: Institute on Aging brings renewed focus to specialized care for older adults

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UTHealth Houston Institute on Aging collaborates with clinicians at the Center for Healthy Aging to deliver specialized care to older adults based on the latest research.

From their unique physiology, to illnesses that commonly affect them, to specific precautions required for their care, older adults are as distinct in their health needs as children. Yet while parents can readily find a pediatrician, older adults often struggle to find equally specialized care. In fact, older adults are projected to make up 25% of all Americans by 2050, yet less than 2% of practicing physicians are geriatricians.

To build a health care system that can support one of the fastest-growing populations, the newly established UTHealth Houston Institute on Aging leverages the expertise of researchers and clinicians across all schools at the university.

“The institute serves as a bridge across UTHealth Houston’s schools and disciplines, allowing us to do more as a university than any individual school or department can do on their own,” says Aanand D. Naik, MD, Executive Director of the UTHealth Houston Institute on Aging.

With support from the Joan and Stanford Alexander Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston and strategic clinical and hospital partnerships, the Institute on Aging pursues research and programs that empower healthy aging while disseminating knowledge and innovations directly to the community.

“We bring problems experienced in our clinics to researchers across UTHealth Houston to deepen our understanding of the aging process and develop treatments that improve patient outcomes,” Naik says. “Breakthroughs are applied in our clinics and hospitals, creating a bedside-to-bench-back-to-bedside model that allows us to address the most important needs of older adults while refining the tools and knowledge we currently have.”

Researchers focus on solutions that address common and pressing needs, such as mitigating the risk for falls, preventing elder abuse and mistreatment, and providing a continuity of care across all of a patient’s health care providers.

UTHealth Houston faculty put these innovations into practice at the UT Physicians Center for Healthy Aging, a comprehensive outpatient clinic for older adults. The only clinic in the state designated as an Age-Friendly Health System, every aspect—from its floorplan to the range of primary and subspecialty care offered—works together to provide care tailored for older adults and their unique needs.

“This work also informs our educational programs,” says Holly M. Holmes, MD, who in addition to her clinical and academic roles serves as Chair of the Advisory Committee of the Institute on Aging. “By integrating research and innovations from the Institute on Aging into our medical school curriculum and interprofessional programs, we can help ensure all members of the health care team have a baseline understanding of aging processes and age-appropriate care.”

Philanthropic support to the institute’s research programs can help deepen our understanding of the aging process, develop innovations that improve the patient’s experience and outcomes, and address the shortage of geriatric specialists.

“The institute demonstrates the substantial commitment by UTHealth Houston to advancing healthy aging and age-friendly care within our health care institutions,” Naik says. “By bringing older adults to the center of our focus, we can work with our philanthropic supporters to create avenues for collaboration, pursue new insights for innovation, and develop new ways to define what it means to live happy and healthy as an older adult in Texas and beyond.”

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