From the Chief Research and Development Officer
Serving older Veterans, as they serve us
Stories about our Veterans resonate. It is the rare individual who won't smile when members of the local Veterans organization press their military uniforms, shine their boots, and march in their hometown 4th of July parade.
Perhaps you have met local Veterans who are part of a volunteer brigade during a natural disaster handing out water bottles or food, or you might see them at the county farm festival, judging a 4-H contest.
The thread that ties these events together is service. Years and decades after our brave Veterans have supported us through military service, many are still serving in their local communities and at the national level.
As VA's chief research and development officer, I know that service also extends to participating in medical research. If it were not for Veterans' participation in clinical trials and cutting-edge research, many medical breakthroughs might never have occurred.
In this issue of VA Research Quarterly Update, we examine research that is meant to improve the lives of older Veterans.
One exciting study is looking at different ways to deliver a relaxation-based therapy for anxiety to older adults. According to VA geropsychologist Dr. Christine Gould, adults often experience anxiety in later life. That is why Dr. Gould has developed a treatment for anxiety that is based on deep breathing and muscle relaxation. The delivery method, DVDs, was designed to ensure that Veterans have ready access to this therapy. Once a Veteran has learned the technique, he or she can practice discreetly anytime their anxiety increases—in the grocery store, at the ball field, or a neighborhood BBQ.
Another readily accessible therapy, also being tested out at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, takes place in the aquatic center. Dr. Jennifer Kaci Fairchild, a psychologist and VA researcher, is conducting a study that will examine the effectiveness of water-based exercise on improving memory loss in older Veterans. The study—Water-based Activities to Enhance Recall in Veterans, or WATER-Vet—will consist of a series of aquatic exercises and memory training. In the beginning, the Veterans will have access to a personal trainer who will take them through two months of group classes. Thereafter, they will continue to work out on their own.
Weight-bearing physical exercise has been shown to help patients with dementia, but the benefit of non-weight bearing exercise like water aerobics has not yet been proven. That's why Dr. Fairchild's study is so important—water-based exercise is enjoyable and broadly accessible, even for disabled Veterans. If the therapy does prove effective, it has the potential to improve the lives of many patients with memory loss.
We also write about the important work that Dr. Matthew Bair is doing at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Bair is a well-known pain researcher who is studying the use of non-drug therapies to treat chronic pain. He says combination therapy that makes use of multiple forms of treatment, including drug and non-drug therapies, is often more effective than just using a single therapy. His research has studied the use of non-drug therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy or massage therapy in concert with drug therapies like ibuprofen or oxycodone.
These studies illustrate just three of the ways in which VA researchers are working to improve the lives of older Veterans. In this issue of VARQU, we also write about many more research efforts that are underway in VA to better understand the aging process and help Veterans meet the challenges that come with it. I hope that the information provided here will prove useful to you and that you will share it with friends and family. Research is an important part of the value that VA brings to the table for Veterans and Americans at large.
Rachel B. Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D.
Chief Research and Development Officer