We are at a critical moment in history as an enormous number of American Baby Boomers (over 70 million) reach ages at which declining cognitive abilities can lead to a loss of independence. We have no precedent for so large an elderly population and the costs of caring for the fraction that cannot live independently will be staggering. Hence, finding effective methods to preserve or even increase cognitive function at advanced ages will not only enhance the quality of life for individuals but will reduce the economic costs associated with caring for the elderly who cannot live independently.
Our vision is to create an institute devoted to interdisciplinary research on healthy physical and cognitive aging that can discover the causes of age-related cognitive decline and translate those discoveries into practices and interventions that slow or halt it.
We already know that cognitive and physical exercise, good nutrition, social interaction, and technological interventions can produce measurable improvements in cognition. But these factors have been studied in isolation, through clinical trials and epidemiological surveys by researchers interested in one or another approach. There are few systematic efforts underway to examine how, when implemented together, these multiple approaches might work synergistically and thus how much more effective they can be in combination. Moreover, most of the existing research evaluates narrowly defined measures of cognitive ability such as improvement on specific tasks while failing to focus on broader and more meaningful measures of successful aging such as well-being and independence.
The institute’s goals will be:
Florida State has the foundation to lead the nation in developing this area. There is expertise in cognition, aging, and therapeutic practices in the Colleges of Arts & Science, Human Science, Medicine, Music, Nursing, Social Science and Public Policy, Social Work, and Visual Arts, Theater, and Dance. In addition, new insights into technological approaches to cognitive exercise and the effects of cognitive impairment on susceptibility to exploitation will draw experts in the Colleges of Communication and Information along with those in the College of Criminology into this effort.
To fulfill these aspirations, we will need a directed, concerted effort to expand the faculties in these areas, build the research and therapeutic facilities that can support the research, and develop a corps of students trained across these disciplines that can carry our work, our approach, and our reputation outward.