Research Programs

Overview

At The University of Chicago research in geriatrics draws on the institution’s rich traditions of being a home to innovative, creative research and a place where exciting collaborations occur regularly across section and department boundaries. Within the Section of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, faculty and staff conducting research include experts in geriatric medicine, nursing, social work, sociology, psychology, education, gerontology, and ethics, frequently working together in inter-disciplinary teams. The topics investigated by members of the Section range from important geriatric syndromes, such as dementia, frailty, falls, and depression; to doctor-patient communication and medical decision-making; to ethics and end-of-life care. Most of this research has important and immediate applicability to the care of older adults and the U.S. health care system.

Geriatricians also are active collaborators with and supporters of research on aging throughout the university. Collaborations span the spectrum from basic science research to clinical research to health services research. Particularly active and innovative collaborations involve colleagues in The Memory Center (neurology and psychiatry), Oncology, Thoracic Surgery, General Medicine, Department of Health Studies, and the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. Research projects as diverse as basic science studies of the mechanisms of prion disease and clinical outcomes of an innovative program providing palliative care for patients with dementia are included in our portfolio.

Opportunities exist for research training, experience, or ongoing collaboration for students, residents, fellows, and faculty from any school or department who have an interest in any aspect of aging and geriatrics.

Basic Research

With its origins in General Internal Medicine, the geriatrics program has not had a tradition of basic science research. The Section of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine is now building a basic science research capability and already has collaborations with basic science researchers in other sections within the Department of Medicine and other departments. Our research colleagues are conducting basic science and translational research on such topics as genes and proteins involved in various forms of dementia, expression of specific cardiac genes in aging and congestive heart failure, mechanisms by which loneliness affects the hormonal and immune systems, and the effects of aging on sleep and hormone cycles.

Clinical Research

The Section of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine and its collaborators tackle some of the most important and challenging types of research, including conducting important studies involving patients with impaired decision-making capacity, patients with multiple and complex medical conditions, and patients receiving care in a variety of settings. Our researchers even study ways in which research on older adults can be improved, such as with the work on informed consent for dementia research and investigations into how to incorporate frail patients in to clinical trials. Research within the Section of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine has been supported by essentially all of the major institutes and foundations funding aging-related research in the United States, including the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Retirement Research Foundation, and the Greenwall Foundation and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Just a partial list of some of the clinical research in geriatrics includes:

  • Dementia Research: Informed, Proxy and Advance Consent (DRIPAC) focuses on the ethics of decision making for research with dementia subjects.
  • Developing linguistics-based approaches to evaluating decision-making capacity in patients with dementia.
  • Diabetes in geriatric populations: special considerations.
  • Studying the addition of geriatrics assessment approaches to cancer care.
  • Change in elderly cognitive function due to adjuvant chemotherapy for cancer.
  • The role of anxiety in clinical decision-making by older adults.
  • Elder abuse and self-neglect.
  • Impact of hospitalists on the inpatient care of older adults.
  • Frailty prevalence and outcomes for frail patients in an urban, underserved area.
  • Best methods for training primary care providers in low-resource settings to care for older adult patients.