oped ways in which to restore and enhance learning and memory apparently lost in very old individuals (Schaie and Willis, 1986) and to enhance self-esteem, thus enabling previously passive, institutionalized elders to take better care of themselves (Rodin et al., 1985, 1990). Because studies documenting the potential modifiability of aging have tended to focus on reducing age-related decrements in the health of individuals, research is needed to define more broadly the areas and limits of the modifiability of aging, particularly in terms of enhancing existing skills and learning in later life.

RESEARCH PRIORITIES

Three major research priorities flow from these themes.

  • The first priority is investigation of the basic social and psychological processes of aging and the specific mechanisms underlying the interrelationships among social, psychological, behavioral, and biological aging functions.

  • The second priority is research that addresses issues of population dynamics, including the question of whether morbidity is being postponed commensurate with increases in longevity.

  • The third priority is research that examines how social structures and changes in those structures affect aging.

These priorities should be seen as the cognitive precursors to specific research questions that will examine issues related to health and functioning—the primary focus of this report. In formulating the research priorities, and in discussing the priorities listed below, the committee has not examined needed research addressing the full array of societal and specific behavioral issues and questions posed by an aging society, such as economic and political implications. The latter, however, represent an equally crucial research agenda.

  • Investigation of the basic social and psychological processes of aging and the specific mechanisms underlying the interrelationships among social, psychological, behavioral, and biological aging functions should be undertaken.

A search for the mechanisms of the interrelationships among hitherto separate disciplines would include studies of (1) the social, psychological, and behavioral variables that predict health, longevity, functional ability, and well-being in individuals and (2) the most effective techniques for maintaining and improving general physical and mental health, and functioning. Once such mechanisms are identified, different intervention models need to be compared.



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