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Extending Life, Enhancing Life: A National Research Agenda on Aging
recommended distribution of additional funds for the research initiatives should support studies of social, psychological, behavioral, and biological interrelationships; “at-risk” populations; population dynamics; and changing social structures.
These resources involve (1) increasing the funding rate of NIA and other NIH approved research program grants (RPGs) on aging from one in four (24 percent) to one in two; (2) providing training for an additional 200 investigators per year in behavioral and social science; and (3) a one-time cost for construction. New resources will include a share in ten multidisciplinary research and training centers added to the current three centers (Claude Pepper Centers) supported by the NIA and participation in an expanded scientific infrastructure (laboratories, computer support, long-range population studies, and increased linkage to such existing databases as the Health Care Financing Administration Medicare data tapes).
The increasing isolation of older persons (one-third live alone), the burden of psychologically disabled older persons on families, and the presence of serious affective disorders (older white males have the highest suicide rate) among elderly persons point up the urgent need for research that leads to better management of social and behavioral problems in the older population.
CROSS-DISCIPLINARY AND CROSSCUTTING ISSUES
Basic biomedical and clinical researchers have only recently begun to examine the influence of gender, race, culture, ethnicity, and social class on biological processes and clinical presentations. These and other social and behavioral issues cut across the disciplines and offer opportunities for further investigation and understanding in the field of aging.
The difference in life expectancy at birth between the sexes was small for those born in 1900, but it has widened considerably over the century. Much of this difference can be ascribed to changes in child-bearing practice and other lifestyle factors as well as to tobacco-related deaths and heart disease. Social and behavioral gender differences in morbidity, particularly as related to chronic conditions, suggest many promising research areas, such as the gender-specific response to social isolation and psychological disorders; differences in the relation of social supports to functional status; the differential effects of gender in pension income, social role expectations, labor