Link Between Frailty and Dementia Gets Closer Look
by New York Researchers
‘Growing consensus in the field that frailty is at
the core of geriatrics, and that frailty is associated with higher rates
of cognitive deficit’
Ellen Goldbaum Senior Editor, Medicine, UB News
5, 2014 – What is the relationship between frailty and dementia? Many
studies acknowledge that frailty and dementia often coexist, but little
research has been done on why that is the case.
Bruce R. Troen, MD, professor of medicine and chief
of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the University
at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is working with
colleagues at the other State University of New York medical schools to
Troen is a co-investigator on the SUNY Network
Aging Partnership (SNAP): Investigating Frailty and Enhancing Lifespan
Across the Health Spectrum. Sharon A. Brangman, MD, professor of
medicine and division chief, Geriatric Medicine, at SUNY Upstate Medical
University, is lead investigator.
Part of the SUNY Networks of Excellence program,
the goal of the $147,000 grant is to establish a statewide
infrastructure for strong interdisciplinary research on aging. SNAP will
work to coordinate research across SUNY's four medical universities to
facilitate competition for scientific funding, accelerate publication of
research and recruit and mentor trainees.
The ultimate goal is to develop the expertise that
will attract a national research center designation.
Troen and his colleagues will develop and compare
tools to assess frailty risk factors and determine how they correlate
with cognitive assessments. The approach will be multidisciplinary,
ranging from the identification of biomarkers to assessments that are
neurological, psychiatric and behavioral.
The grant also will include the training of medical
students and fellows.
“Aging is the blockbuster issue of the 21st
century,” says Troen. Yet in 2008, the Institute of Medicine reported
that while the population of older adults in the U.S. will nearly double
by 2030, the lack of geriatric health care providers who can care for
them will only worsen.
“There aren’t enough of us to go around,” says
Troen. “It’s a national crisis in the making.”
The gaps in geriatric research are equally huge,
Troen says. For example, while there is growing consensus in the field
that frailty is at the core of geriatrics, and that frailty is
associated with higher rates of cognitive deficit, very little research
has explored how the two conditions may be related.
“Even as we see more frailty in our aging patients,
the definition of the condition itself has not been well established,”
says Troen. Some definitions are more biological, others are more
physical and some combine physical, biological, psychological and social
The goal of SNAP, he says, is to address these and
other gaps in understanding the connections between frailty and dementia
that will result in maximizing patient outcomes and enhancing patients’
quality of life.
A key aim of the project is to develop a unique
database on frailty and dementia across the state’s diverse populations.
That effort, Troen says, will be enhanced by the diverse populations
served by the four SUNY medical schools at UB, SUNY Upstate Medical
School, SUNY Downstate Medical School and Stony Brook.
“We want to understand what underlies frailty and
mild cognitive impairment,” says Troen. “The risks overlap.”
Troen is especially interested in predicting
frailty before it occurs, quantifying it and then intervening with
medications where appropriate.
His background as both a molecular biologist who
has studied vitamin D and osteoporosis, and a geriatrician who works to
help improve his patients’ quality of life, has prepared him well for
Some of the work will involve identifying
biomarkers found in both frailty and dementia, such as C-reactive
protein. Certain vitamin D deficiencies also are found in both
conditions, Troen says.
Troen was recruited to the UB School of Medicine
and Biomedical Sciences from the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine in 2013. He says he doesn’t know of any other state that has
developed a statewide infrastructure for research on aging.
“We all want to age successfully,” concludes Troen.
“This grant is focused on how best to create the circumstances where
that can happen.”
As the grant gets underway, UB and the other SUNY
centers will be enrolling patients. Patients interested in enrolling
should contact the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at UB
at (716) 888-4865 or
Other co-investigators on SNAP are Carl Cohen, MD,
SUNY Distinguished Service Professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center,
and Suzanne Fields, MD, professor of clinical medicine and chief,
Division of General, Geriatric and Hospital Medicine, at Stony Brook
University School of Medicine.
The SUNY Networks of Excellence are part of Gov.
Cuomo’s Innovation Agenda that includes START-UP NY, incubator “Hot
Spots,” the New York State Venture Capital Fund and the NYS Innovation
Network to foster entrepreneurialism and economic growth through
public-private partnerships and give researchers the tools they need to
bring their ideas to market.
The University at Buffalo reports it is a premier
research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive
campus in the State University of New York. UB's nearly 30,000 students
pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate,
graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the
University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American
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