From the Chief Research and Development Officer
Timothy O'Leary, MD, PhD
Timothy O'Leary, MD, PhD
Americans are living longer than ever before because of better health care. By 2030, more than 70 million Americans will be aged 60 or older—one in every
five citizens. Today more than half of the patients in VA medical centers are older than 60.
In the 1970s, VA began planning to meet the challenges the aging World War II population would present. To handle this complex issue, the department
developed Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Centers (GRECCs). GRECCs attract scientists and health science
students to the field of geriatrics in order to increase basic knowledge of aging and the diseases commonly associated with it. They also study how care is
delivered to elders and the effects of rehabilitation.
Today, there are 19 GRECCs at VA facilities throughout the nation, publishing scores of high-quality peer-reviewed articles on aging each year, and
providing thousands of hours in geriatric education to medical and health care students and post-doctoral fellows. GRECC-affiliated research, however, is
only part of a larger portfolio the Office of Research and Development manages to address older Veterans and their health care needs. I am very excited
about the work VA researchers have done, and are doing, in support of the "golden" Veteran.
For many older Veterans, aging brings inactivity and limitations on their mobility. Accordingly, our researchers are looking at improved rehabilitation
strategies to counteract frailty and deconditioning, and to help older Veterans with disabilities adapt to their limitations. For example, researchers at
our Atlanta and Baltimore medical centers are developing a user-friendly wayfinding system for Veterans with vision loss that will allow them to navigate
their home environments with the assistance of a mobile application on their smart phones.
Researchers at VA's Northern California Health Care System are looking at the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the resistance of muscles to
grow after they have atrophied following long periods of immobilization and bed rest. Once we understand why muscle atrophy takes place, we will be able to
design more targeted and effective treatments for this condition.
And researchers at the Miami VA Medical Center are looking at whether treatment with large oral doses of vitamin D, a low-cost, easy-to-administer
treatment, will benefit physical performance in male Veterans aged 65 to 90. These studies and many others will help us reduce frailty and loss of
independence in elderly Veterans—which should have a dramatic impact on their quality of life.
In this issue of VA Research Quarterly Update, we'll summarize some of the recent advances our researchers have made in combatting the conditions
of aging in Veterans. The work we are doing, in many different areas, demonstrates our full commitment to optimizing the health, well-being, and
independence of the golden Veteran. I appreciate this opportunity to share our successes with you.
Timothy J. O'Leary, MD, PhD
Chief Research and Development Officer