New Center for Applied Health Research on Aging

Michael Wolf, PhD, MPH ’02, associate vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine and professor of Medical Social Sciences, is the director of the new Center for Applied Health Research on Aging.

Building on years of research and collaborations dedicated to promoting informed decision-making and engagement for optimal health and well-being among seniors, the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM) has launched the Center for Applied Health Research on Aging (CAHRA).

The Center will be directed by Michael Wolf, PhD, MPH ’02, associate vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine and professor of Medical Social Sciences. It will unite faculty across disciplines to investigate cognitive, psychosocial, community and health system factors that affect a person’s ability to manage their health. Center faculty will also work to design interventions to influence health-related behaviors and outcomes.

The Center will focus on six key research programs:

  • Health Literacy & Learning, led by Stacy Cooper Bailey PhD, MPH, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, which will focus on health literacy promotion and patient engagement;
  • Cognitive Aging, led by Laura Curtis, MS, research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, which will study how changes in cognitive function influence self-management skills and health behaviors;
  • Psychosocial Support, led by Rachel O’Conor, PhD, research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, which will examine the role of support networks for patients with complex care needs;
  • Life Course Health, led by Marina Arvanitis, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, which will study how skills acquired across the lifespan help inform self-care;
  • Treatment Adherence, led by Wolf and Bailey, which will develop and test interventions to improve a person’s ability to adhere to treatment recommendations;
  • Measurement & Analysis, led by Mary Kwasny, ScD, professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Biostatistics, which will help design and conduct analyses across all aging programs.

Recent Northwestern Medicine research in this area has shown that targeted interventions to support asthma self-management significantly improved outcomes and medication adherence in older adults, while certain educational tools to help patients manage complex drug regimens do not work.

“At Northwestern, we have a very large portfolio of research that focuses on many different aspects of aging,” Wolf said. “With CAHRA, the aspiration is to have a venue that can bring together Northwestern aging researchers so that we might innovate together and improve the care provided to the increasing number of Baby Boomers reaching older age and facing considerable healthcare needs. At this time, our health system is not fully prepared to manage all of the issues presented by older patients, as well as by their families who may play integral roles in their care. A mission of CAHRA will be to simplify the burden of treatment, while better engaging patients and families over time.”

The Center will also be home to a Clinical Psychology Training Lab, which trains pre- and post-doctoral fellows within Feinberg’s clinical psychology PhD program behavioral medicine track, allowing an immersive experience in CAHRA’s aging research projects.

Research and education like this has the ability to cut across departments and have an impact in a short amount of time, according to Ron Ackermann, MD, MPH, director of IPHAM and senior associate dean for public health.

“This new Center will enable Northwestern University to contribute much greater impact through aging research, particularly in areas such as improving the quality, effectiveness, safety and equity of healthcare for older adults,” Ackermann said. “Michael is extremely collaborative and has the vision and passion to bring faculty together and inspire exciting new collaborations that will drive innovation and amplify our collective impact in the field of healthy aging.”