areas during its deliberations on this project. To qualify for consideration for a prominent place on the National Research Agenda on Aging, the area of research must have fallen within one or more of the following general categories:
General aging processes: Such studies focus on theories of aging (diverse mechanisms of aging processes, including genetic and environmental components and their interaction) functioning at the molecular, cellular, organ, organ system, organism, and wider psychosocial and sociocultural levels.
Important age-related disease: This might be a disease occurring predominantly in aged populations or a disease found across the lifespan whose occurrence in old age is associated with specific alterations in its presentation, course, or sequelae (e.g., diabetes).
Factors influencing age-disease interaction: A number of lifestyle and socioenvironmental factors have an important influence both on the emergence of disease in aging populations and on the mode of presentation by the older victims of disease.
The functional capacity of the elderly: The enormous importance of functional capacity as a determinant of the care needs of older persons dictates a special focus on those factors that limit the activity of elderly individuals and impair their independence.
The feasibility and timeliness of the research: The committee was sensitive to the fact that “pie-in-the-sky” research agendas must be avoided in favor of feasible research, that is, research whose “time has come. ” Similarly, an overly conservative research strategy must be avoided since major breakthroughs often are made when special, timely windows of opportunity present themselves.
Other criteria for areas of research included their potential to (1) enhance research in other areas, as in basic studies on proliferative capacity of cells to improve studies on carcinogenesis; (2) reduce morbidity and mortality in older persons; (3) decrease costs of care; (4) increase knowledge of behavioral and social factors in health and disease; and (5) improve pharmacological treatment of patients.
During its deliberations, the committee identified 11 emerging and overarching themes relevant to the entire spectrum of research on aging. These provide a context for the consideration of the individual research areas discussed in the ensuing chapters.
An interdisciplinary approach to studies of aging: Many of the most intractable problems in aging research, particularly in the clinical, social, and behavioral arenas, can be properly addressed only by an interdisciplinary group. Interdisciplinary work is costly and