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Mental Health and Aging

Training and Funding Opportunities

There are outstanding and varied training opportunities to students in the Mental Health and Aging Research Area. Each faculty member is involved in several projects in which students can gain research experience, both in and outside of the Department of Mental Health. Numerous opportunities are available for collaboration on scholarly publications in the areas of mental health and aging. The following are some of the studies led by faculty in the Department in which they might become involved:

Aging and Dementia Training Fellowship

The goal of this doctoral and postdoctoral program is to train new investigators in age-related cognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders. It is an interdisciplinary program, funded by the National Institute on Aging, T32AGXXXXX, affiliated with the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences at the School of Arts and Sciences. Predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows are required to take ‘Cognition, Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease’ (330.802.01), for credit; to develop mastery in biostatistics, and to complete training in ethical conduct of research. Postdoctoral fellows are expected to engage in original research under the supervision of a faculty member. Doctoral trainees must complete the required coursework for their degree program, complete qualifying examinations and a research dissertation. Please contact George Rebok, PhD, for further information.

Epidemiology and Biostatistics of Aging Training Program (EBA)

The Epidemiology and Biostatistics of Aging program offers training in the methodology and conduct of significant clinical- and population-based research in older adults. Training in a program that includes numerous investigators actively involved in multidisciplinary research provides experience in the successful conduct of the collaborative work essential in studies of health in older adults and offers mentoring that leads to career dedication to these issues. The specific mission of this training grant is to prepare epidemiologists and biostatisticians who will be both leaders and essential members of the multidisciplinary research needed to define models of healthy, productive aging and the prevention and interventions that will accomplish this goal. This training grant is funded by the National Institute on Aging, T32AG000247.

Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’ Disease Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (JHAD-RCMAR) – Pilot Research Program

JHAD-RCMAR funds are available to encourage innovative research focused on basic, clinical, psychosocial, or health services aspects of minority aging, Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders (ADRD), and health disparities. The overarching goal of the JHAD-RCMAR is to prepare the next generation of underrepresented minority researchers in the conduct of Alzheimer-related research that is culturally relevant and has potential to bridge research from discovery to implementation in ADRD minority aging. Those awarded pilot research funds through this mechanism will become JHAD-RCMAR Scientists and will receive additional career development support through the JHAD-RCMAR. A total of $30,000 (direct costs), plus F&A is available for each pilot. Each pilot project is expected to last one year. Junior or senior investigators (who have not received an R01 or who are newly transitioning to ADRD and minority aging research), or post-doctoral fellows who are on track for promotion to at least Research Associate are eligible to apply for pilot funding. For post-doctoral fellows, we request a letter from a mentor confirming the promotional track. Applicants are not eligible if they were a RCMAR Scientist/Scholar at another institution. The affiliation of the applicant can be from any University. This pilot program is not limited to those with Johns Hopkins University affiliations. Individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups as well as individuals with disabilities are always encouraged to apply for NIH support. Information about the Pilot Research Program application process can be found on the JHAD-RCMAR website.

Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial

ACTIVE is the largest randomized controlled trial of cognitive training with older adults that has been conducted to date. ACTIVE is an NIA/NINR-funded multisite study coordinated by the New England Research Institute with research sites at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Pennsylvania State University, Indiana University School of Medicine, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged, Wayne State University, and The Johns Hopkins University. The goal of ACTIVE is to maintain functional independence in community-residing older adults by improving basic mental abilities through different cognitive interventions, including memory, inductive reasoning, and speed of processing. The ACTIVE study was initiated in 1996 and the clinical trial phase ended with the second annual post-test in 2002. Phase II of ACTIVE started in July, 2003 as a followup study focused on measuring the long-term impact of training effects on cognitive function and cognitively demanding everyday activities. Subsequently a third annual post-test was completed in 2003 and a fifth annual post-test in 2005. Phase III of ACTIVE started in July 2008 and 10-year follow-up testing was completed at the end of 2010. Phase IV of ACTIVE was funded in 2017 as a 20-year follow-up linking ACTIVE primary data with large secondary data sources such as Medicare claims data, the National Death Index, credit histories, and state driving records. One of the objectives of the 20-year follow-up is to determine whether there are any delayed effects of the ACTIVE training on dementia risk, functional disability, and health service utilization including long-term care, health-related quality of life, and morbidity and mortality.

Baltimore Experience Corps® Study

The Baltimore Experience Corps® study is a randomized trial of the Experience Corps program, a community-based model of senior service designed to improve the educational outcomes of children in elementary schools in Baltimore, as well as the health and functional status of older adults. The trial evaluates whether senior volunteer roles within Experience Corps beneficially impact children’s academic achievement and classroom behavior in public elementary schools and the health of volunteers. Volunteers randomized to the program complete 30 hours of training in literacy support, including phonetics, library support and violence prevention, as well as background on school administration and culture. They are placed in classrooms in grades K–3, as well as in school libraries and other supportive roles within the school, such as attendance monitors. The study began in 2006 as a program project grant funded through NIA. The Baltimore Experience Corps is a collaboration of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore City schools, Civic Ventures (a nonprofit corporation in San Francisco, Calif.), the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, Intergenerational Community Services (nonprofit), and AARP. In 2019 NIA funded a long-term follow-up study of the Baltimore Experience Corps® participants. The overall objective for this study is to evaluate whether the two-year short-term effects observed in relatively healthy aging adults collectively led to longer-term health benefits 10+ years later as these at-risk individuals enter their 8th and 9th decades of life. Our goal is to determine whether increased social, physical, and cognitive engagement in the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial led to long-term lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease, reductions in healthcare expenditures, improved quality of life, less disability, and lower mortality up to approximately 10-12 years later.

Brain Health Substudy

The Brain Health Substudy is nested within the Baltimore Experience Corps® study, above, to apply sensitive in vivo functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the effects of Program participation on brain health in 120 older adults randomized to the program or to control. Based on pilot intervention data, we hypothesize that program participation will lead to improved function in prefrontal cortical regions responsible for executive function and memory, and increased brain volume in these regions.

Biomarkers of Cognitive Decline Among Normal Individuals (BIOCARD) Study

The BIOCARD Study (officially entitled "Biomarkers of Cognitive Decline Among Normal Individuals: the BIOCARD cohort") is supported by a grant jointly funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It is an extension of the Family Study/BIOCARD Study begun at NIMH in 1995. The overarching goal of the BIOCARD Study is to identify biomarkers associated with progression from normal cognitive status to cognitive impairment or dementia, with a particular focus on Alzheimer's Disease. The domains of information collected as part of the study in the past include: cognitive testing, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), amyloid imaging (using PET-PiB), and blood specimens. Investigators at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine began evaluating participants in 2009. The subjects are seen annually. At each visit there are assessments of medical and cognitive status, as well as acquisition of MRI, CSF, PET-PiB, and blood.

Cardiovascular Health Study

The Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) was initiated in 1989 and is ongoing 31 years later as a prospective study of risk factors for development and progression of CHD, stroke and cognitive and functional declines in 5,518 people aged 65 years and older. The cohort is comprised of a nationally representative cohort that is bi-racial and spans socioeconomically diverse, urban and rural neighborhoods. Numerous ancillary studies include:

CHS Cognition Study

CHS further adjudicated the onset of clinical dementia over 10 years using cognitive, functional and repeat brain MRI (1992-93 & 1998) in 3660 participants. These data have been used to evaluate the relationships between lifestyle, genotypic data, inflammation, and subclinical cardiovascular disease and incident clinical cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes, and risk of dementia.

CHS Neighborhoods, Cognition, and Activity

This study was funded by NIA in 2018 to target some of the research challenges and opportunities articulated in the NIA Health Disparities Research Framework by examining interactions between environment, biology and behavior. There may be a dose-dependent relationship between exposure to adverse neighborhood factors and rates of cognitive and functional decline through poor physical activity (PA), sleep quality (noise), social support (built environment-libraries, parks), and greater cardiovascular (CV) risk. We are exploring the roles that neighborhood disadvantage may serve as a common cause between these individual risk factors and cognitive and functional health, particularly in the socio-demographically most at-risk groups (minorities, women) well represented in the multi-site CHS.

Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory (GEMS) Randomized Controlled Trial

This randomized, controlled trial was initiated in 2000 to evaluate whether ginkgo biloba was effective in preventing and delaying the onset of dementia and mitigate rates of cognitive decline in older adults. 3,069 persons 75 years and older and their proxies were recruited and randomized to ginkgo or placebo in 4 U.S. communities, including the Johns Hopkins site in Washington County, MD. Participants received a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation with blood draw at baseline and all participants and proxies visited the clinic every 6 months to detect changes in cognitive and functional health, which would necessitate a diagnostic neuropsychological and neurologic evaluation, including MRI. The GEMS trial officially concluded in spring 2008 and study PI’s have since published two outcome papers in JAMA demonstrating no effect of ginkgo biloba (240 mg/day) in reducing risk for dementia or mitigating rates of cognitive decline. A number of ancillary studies have been initiated to examine inflammatory pathways to dementia, and, the utility of MRI brain volumetric and white matter hyperintensity data in a subset of healthy vs. MCI participants.

Women’s Health and Aging Study II: Cognitive Pathways

This is a 10-year, observational study of 436 cognitively and physically well-functioning women aged 70-79 living in Baltimore City. This study examined the natural history of cognitive and functional declines and the cognitive antecedents of functional decline and disability. Health, psychosocial, lifestyle, anthropometric, serum and genotypic biomarkers, and other information were prospectively obtained to evaluate hypothesized risk factors of cognitive and physical disability. We further carefully adjudicated both prevalent and incident major chronic diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. An array of standardized cognitive tests and performance-based measures of independent function were prospectively obtained, including medication compliance, balance, grip strength, visual acuity, hearing and frailty. Learn more about this study...

Certificate in Gerontology

This program offers a rich curriculum on aging from basic science and public health research to health care management, drawing upon faculty from the Johns Hopkins Medical institutions, including the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Schools of Nursing and Medicine. The program is housed in the interdisciplinary Center on Aging and Health (COAH). Please contact Brian Buta (bbuta1@jhmi.edu) for further information.