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CDC Healthy Aging Research Network: Addressing the Public Health Needs of Seniors

Healthy Aging Research Network researchers and staff convene at HPRC.

Principal Investigator
Basia Belza, PhD, RN, FAAN

Project Manager
Gwen Moni

One of every five Americans will be 65 years old or older by 2030. It’s statistics like this that make the work of the Healthy Aging Research Network timely and important. Older adults need an infrastructure that promotes independence, mobility, and healthy life styles.

The CDC Healthy Aging Program has provided funding for the Healthy Aging Research Network (HAN) since 2001. Through a competitive application process, HPRC was selected to serve as the original Coordinating Center, which continues to this day. The Network is comprised of investigators, faculty, staff, and trainees from the Coordinating Center, seven member and affiliate universities, individual affiliate members from eight non-funded universities, and representatives from a growing number of national partner agencies and organizations.

“Through our partnerships we are better able to leverage expertise, resources, and funding,” says Gwen Moni, Research Coordinator for the HAN Coordinating Center as she describes some of the Network’s growth. “The Network was originally established to help the CDC identify and deliver on a national public health research and dissemination agenda regarding healthy aging, and we’ve successfully continued to expand our efforts to promote healthy aging.”

Today, the Network conducts community-based research, provides technical assistance to programs and trainings, develops resources and tools, and influences policies to promote healthy aging in diverse settings. A particular focus for the Network is on communities and populations that bear a disproportionate burden of illness and disease.

Basia Belza, PhD, RN, is the principal investigator and lead of the HAN Coordinating Center. “HAN has an incredible collaborative spirit. The unwavering support of and belief in a shared purpose and pursuit of innovation are making an important and long-lasting impact at the intersection of public health and aging.”

As the Network expands into other topics, it taps its national network to conduct a systematic scan the environment and identify the gaps and needs of the aging community. For example, the Network’s first topic was physical activity, and they found gaps in facility access and programs targeted toward older adults. Older adults and their providers had difficulties locating programs and facilities that met their needs.

Currently the HAN is focusing its efforts on the overarching topics of mobility, fall prevention, brain health, environmental and policy change, and nutrition. HAN investigators are engaged in individual and collaborative projects that involve developing and testing measures, interventions, and dissemination strategies. Some HAN projects are listed below:

  • Bringing together experts in the field to develop a national framework on mobility and aging.
  • Evaluating the built environment for wayfinding cues (such as signs, landmarks, and lighting) and other elements critical to the mobility of older adults with cognitive changes.
  • Summarizing the literature on community wayfinding and developing implications for public health and aging.
  • Editing two special issues in the Journal of Aging and Research.
  • Providing technical assistance to CDC-funded Special Interest Projects on fall prevention.
  • Developing the Community Wayfinding Pocket Assessment Guide, in partnership with Easter Seals Project Action.

HAN was one of the first thematic research networks established through the CDC Prevention Research Centers. Its members and initiatives are regularly recognized for excellence, including the HAN Environmental and Policy Change Clearinghouse recently receiving the Apex Award for Publication Excellence and a paper co-authored by a HAN member being selected as article of the year by the Journal of Health Promotion Practice.

Nancy Whitelaw, from the National Council on Aging, says “HAN is unique in its ability to integrate research on policy, community, and program interventions—ensuring the greatest benefit to all older adults.”

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