Learn more about the Center for Healthy Aging in this episode of Rutgers Big Ideas.
Read the episode transcript here.
The first episode in this podcast series features Dr. XinQi Dong, a nationally renowned geriatrician who became a full-time caregiver for his grandparents when he was just 13, and his vision for the Rutgers Center for Healthy Aging. It also tells the story of Stef O’Keefe, a full-time caregiver and children’s book author whose experience highlights the urgent need for more patient-centered research for older adults and the challenges millions of people endure while caring for their loved ones.
Rutgers Center for Healthy Aging
Improving population health by reshaping research, practice, and policy
The idealized concept of “aging gracefully” is something to strive for, but getting older is associated with a variety of issues. Imagine having a resource in New Jersey that supports and enhances research into evidence-based practice methods focused on older adults. The Rutgers Center for Healthy Aging will ensure the most vulnerable population has access to the best clinical care and services available in New Jersey and the nation.
While New Jersey may rank among the top for wealth, the state fares much worse in health-related rankings. The state places 50th for hospital admissions, 34th for preventable hospitalizations, and 48th in primary care providers to populations. Older adults are disproportionately affected by these outcomes. According to the 2017 US Census, 19.5 percent of the state’s population—more than 1.35 million—are considered older adults.
This statistic indicates that one-fifth of the state’s population is at risk of receiving inadequate health care. Rutgers’ aging experts are spread across campuses and disciplines, limiting knowledge transfer or combined efforts. By establishing the Center for Healthy Aging, Rutgers will have a collaborative, multidisciplinary network to help shape policies and positively impact population health both in New Jersey and throughout the nation.
The United States is a rapidly aging nation. Some 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, and by 2030, when all members of this generation will be 65 or older, 20 percent of the population will be classified as “retirement age.” By 2035, Americans over 65 are projected to outnumber those under 18. The ratio of working adults to retirement-age adults is expected to narrow from 3.5:1 in 2020 to 2.5:1 by 2060(1).
There will be corresponding increases in age-related illnesses, such as dementia, disability, and myriad medical problems associated with them. But the challenge of care for the aging goes far beyond disease-specific issues. How will standards for elder care be established and implemented? Will there be an increase in support for the millions of relatives and friends who provide unpaid care? How can health care professionals use evidence-based research to interface with care agencies, patients, and caregivers to combat psychological distress and social isolation?
Geriatricians and palliative care professionals recognize that a massive effort to expand and standardize care for the aging will be necessary to reckon with these demographic trends. The health care workforce must expand since protections for the aging require stronger evidence-based intervention strategies. And the army of caregivers—professional and unpaid—needs networks of support and information that are currently unavailable or undeveloped. Without a robust infrastructure that delivers evidence-based care to diverse older Americans, the financial, emotional, and moral costs of inadequate preparedness will multiply.
There is a concurrent need for more patient-centered research into geriatrics, gerontology, and palliative care for aging Americans. While there have been impressive gains in these fields in recent decades, expanding the research and workforce infrastructure focused on the aging population is a critical societal need.
The champions of Rutgers’ Center for Healthy Aging, which is part of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research (IFH), are determined to build that infrastructure throughout New Jersey and make it more functional, inclusive, and equitable. The institute’s director, Dr. XinQi Dong, a nationally renowned geriatrician, emphasizes that this vision goes beyond science and research into gerontology, geriatrics, and palliative care. The center will also develop active community outreach so that the gains of new and innovative research translate into improved care and life quality for the aging and their families.
The Center for Healthy Aging’s overarching goal is to create a platform on which clinicians, researchers, caregivers, nonmedical partners, and patients can combine resources to gather patient-centered research and develop evidence-based care strategies focused on the “whole person” rather than on their ailments.
Big Ideas are driven by faculty, staff, and researchers across disciplines, divisions, and locations. Project Champions represent the robust, expansive, and highly collaborative project teams whose work will bring these ideas to life.
Director, Institute for Health
XinQi Dong, MD, MPH, is a renowned geriatrician and leader in advancing population health issues in under-represented communities. Since 2018, he has served as the Director of the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research and is the inaugural Henry Rutgers Distinguished Professor of Population Health Sciences. Numerous institutions and organizations have recognized Dr. Dong’s contributions. He was appointed senior advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration, was the first geriatrician to receive the National Physician Advocacy Merit Award, has led National Academy of Medicine initiatives, recently received the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Equity Award and has more than 260 peer-reviewed publications on culture, violence, and health outcomes. He has led multiple national and international research initiatives and built sustainable partnerships with communities and stakeholders to advance population health. Dong received his BA in biology and economics from the University of Chicago, his MD at Rush University College of Medicine, and his MPH in epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He completed his internal medicine residency and geriatric fellowship at Yale University Medical Center.