ging is the future of health care. As we baby boomers inexorably shift the demographic curve to the right, and as people of all ages continue to get healthier, the proportion of all encounters between Americans and the health care system accounted for by people 65 and older — already more than a third — will only increase. Illnesses associated with aging constitute a constantly increasing share of the demands on the health system.
At the same time, we have learned over the last generation that aging, in and of itself, is not an illness. Mental and physical frailty may be statistical concomitants of aging, but they are not inevitable, and do not occur uniformly in people of any particular age. The average 70- or 80-year-olds of today are substantially healthier than their counterparts of 30 years ago, and an increasing proportion of them are full and active participants in the life of their communities. We thus face the dual challenge of improving the health of today’s elderly while conducting the research that promises still better health in the future.
I’m happy to say that UMDNJ has assumed a leadership role in research on aging, as it has in the education of physicians to care for older adults, and in the provision of specialized medical services for the elderly with complex problems. To integrate clinical practice, education, and research in geriatrics, the University founded the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging in November 2005, building on the decade of success of the Center for Aging at the School of Osteopathic Medicine. UMDNJ researchers are focused on expanding the understanding of how human beings age, what can go wrong in the aging process, and what can be done to stave off grave health problems often associated with aging.
In this issue, we present some of the data and insights that our colleagues are contributing to the growing body of knowledge in such areas as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, macular degeneration, nutrition, and general disability, and share with you our confidence that growing older may soon not be so readily equated with gravely diminished capabilities. We may be getting older, but we’re also getting better.
Bruce C. Vladeck, PhD
Interim University President