Helping Older Adults Maintain Their Independence

At 76, Curtis Patton had the usual ailments of a person his age. So when he received a letter in the mail encouraging him to participate in a clinical trial for older adults, he was intrigued.

The study, Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE), was designed to prevent or delay mobility disability – the inability to walk a quarter of a mile – in adults aged 70 to 89. Participants were randomly assigned to either a physical activity program or a series of workshops focused on strategies related to prevention and health promotion. The study aims to change how older people live, teaching them lifestyle changes that can help them maintain their independence.

Led by Thomas Gill, MD, a specialist in the health of older adults, the study is being conducted through Yale's Program on Aging. This program offers several clinical trials that evaluate the factors that play a role in aging and test interventions to increase the independence and quality of life of older adults. Investigators are also trying to determine if physical activity and health education can have an impact on heart disease, fall injuries, performance of everyday activities and other areas that can become problematic as people age.

"We want to change how people live," said Dr. Gill. "Maintaining independence for older adults is both a public health and a clinical priority, and modifying lifestyle is an important approach to maintaining independence."

Patton agreed to participate in the study for at least four years. Like most of the other participants, he believes the study has been beneficial to him, giving him the tools to negotiate his life as he gets older. "It has been very supportive of regaining health or maintaining the health that I have," he said.

He also realizes that clinical research has the potential to benefit many others, including his family, the community and the nation.

Curtis Patton (left) is participating in a study led by Thomas Gill, MD, that is designed to help older adults have a better quality of life.

Clinical studies can be an opportunity to find out and learn about yourself.