Caring for seniors has always been a part of life for Lee Lindquist, ’00 MD, ’03 ’05 GME, ’05 MPH, ’10 MBA. As a child, she helped care for her grandparents and many great uncles and great aunts. She and her parents would mow their lawns, make sure they had food and visit them in nursing homes to make sure their needs were met.

“I love old people,” says Lindquist, now an associate professor of Medicine at Northwestern and a physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It’s a way of life, a mission. These are the people who have helped us before and it’s our turn to help them.”

That passion brought Lindquist to Northwestern as a first-year medical student in 1996 and has kept her here for two decades. She has risen through the ranks to lead Northwestern Geriatrics as section chief, as well as become a nationally recognized researcher in geriatrics.

“The seniors and people here are great to work with,” Lindquist explains. “I keep learning new things and finding fantastic inspiration to help our seniors nationally.”

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Lindquist is pictured in 2004, shortly after publishing a study about cruise ship care for seniors. The research, which she conducted during her fellowship, gained international attention.

After medical school, Lindquist completed her residency in internal medicine at Northwestern and then stayed to pursue a fellowship in geriatrics and internal medicine research.

It wasn’t long before Lindquist got a taste of the impact she could have through research. She published a study during her fellowship that showed living on a cruise ship could be a cost-effective alternative to assisted living. The study quickly made international headlines and was highlighted in more than 200 media outlets. Officials from other countries, including Mexico, Italy, Canada and Netherlands, reached out to her for help with their nation’s aging population.

“It’s just mind blowing how much your research can impact the world,” she says. “One morning you’re seeing patients in your geriatrics clinic at Northwestern and then that afternoon, you’re talking to people in Amsterdam about their long-term care issues.”

Currently, Lindquist’s work focuses on keeping seniors at home. She and her colleagues have developed a website called Planyourlifespan.org to help seniors anticipate what they will need in order to stay in their homes as they age.

“It’s the best place for them,” Lindquist explains. However, many seniors living at home face frequent emergencies. Their families often come to her concerned about their loved ones’ well-being and unsure about the next steps in their care.

“We’re seeing so many seniors and aging parents living on a cliff,” she says. “They are doing okay right now at home, but at any minute they could fall off and have serious needs.”

Rather than just reacting to these inevitable emergencies, Lindquist and her colleagues designed the website to help seniors prepare before they happen. For example, they can plan for the likelihood of a future hospitalization. They can choose a rehabilitation facility or home caregiver company in advance to ease their transition back home after a hospitalization. They can share their detailed plans with family or friends.

Lindquist with her husband Paul, daughter Lexi and son Leo.

Lindquist with her husband Paul, daughter Lexi and son Leo.

“A lot of people have given us feedback that the website has decreased their anxiety and stress about something happening, because they have a plan,” Lindquist said.

With a $1.8 million grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, Lindquist tested the website and found that seniors who used it were more likely to make and share their plans than seniors who used a control website. The results were so resoundingly positive that the team was able to conclude the study early at the interim analysis. Lindquist has recently presented the study in grand rounds across the country and at the opening plenary session of the Society of General Internal Medicine’s annual meeting, something she called a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“It’s all about trying to get people to plan for what they might need when they reach their 70s, 80s and 90s,” she says. “By preparing, people have a better chance of staying in their own home.”

In addition to her research, Lindquist has helped Northwestern Memorial develop a national reputation in geriatrics. The hospital was recently ranked 9th in the country for geriatrics by U.S. News and World Report. It was the first time the hospital has made it into the top 10. To keep that reputation going, Lindquist and colleagues are working on many clinical geriatrics programs. For example, she helps train geriatric nurses in the hospital emergency department to treat older adults and transfer them back home for follow-up care, sparing them a potentially harmful hospitalization. She is also overseeing a new effort to have physicians visit older patients at home.

For Lindquist, who set out with a “Midwestern” drive to make a difference locally, seeing her work’s national and international reach has been gratifying.

“It totally surpasses any goals I’ve ever had,” Lindquist says.