MUSC Center on Aging – Part 1
Guest: Lotta Granholm-Bentley – Director, Center on Aging
Host: Sally Smith – Author/Resource literature on age-related disease and healthy aging
Sally Smith: Welcome to Age to Age. I’m Sally Smith. Let’s talk. We have with us Lotta Granholm-Bentley, Director of the Center on Aging at MUSC. Lotta is a basic scientist with a PhD. She is also involved in many initiatives to promote healthy aging, in South Carolina as well as in Charleston and, really, all over the world, in very powerful ways, as an advocate for all of us. We’re thrilled that you could be with us today, Lotta.
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Thank you.
Sally Smith: Along with many of the hats you wear is that of being Director of the Center on Aging. Tell us, what is the Center on Aging?
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: The Center on Aging is quite unusual in that it, actually, is a center that covers all the six colleges of MUSC. Our major focus is on coordinating research, coordinating outreach in the community, and coordinating education on healthy aging and age-related diseases.
Sally Smith: And as I understand from reading your very informative annual report, you’re, really, one of the oldest centers, or the oldest center, at MUSC. How did it come about? Was it that they realized there needed to one cohesive thing because aging reached into so many different parts of the medical university? Was that the main reason it was put together?
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: I think it actually started as a development idea. It was an endowment. And the thought was, definitely, to integrate different colleges. First, I think, in the beginning of 2000/2001, it became clear that it needed to involve all the colleges, Nursing, Rehabilitation, Medicine, Dental, everything.
Sally Smith: I’ve gotten to know the Center on Aging a little bit. And when I realized that funds for research at the Center on Aging, really, go to such diverse things, I, as a lay person, did not connect. But when you think of aging, you know, your eyes are affected, your hearing is affected, certain diseases like Parkinson’s, and strokes, and depression, pharmaceutical issues that come up, it’s so much more complicated and diverse than we had thought. What are the goals of the Center on Aging?
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: The goals are to increase the quality of life for older adults in South Carolina and beyond. It’s inherent that we would like to increase the lifespan. South Carolinians live a shorter lifespan than the average American, and definitely shorter than in other countries. So, by increasing quality, we hope to also increase quantity.
Sally Smith: Yes. And I see there’s sort of a three-pronged approach. There’s research. And, of course, we have doctors here doing a vast amount of research, and a great deal of collaboration on research, which is, of course, key to all of our society. People like you are doing this in other towns, and that was impressive to see. And then, also, the partnerships with other communities like, I guess, healthcare providers in the community. How does that work? Do they come to you for questions about geriatric care, or do you go to them? How do you establish that sort of community involvement?
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: We’re part of a statewide initiative, the South Carolina Geriatric Education Center, the SC-GEC. It was funded to Esther Forti, who was an MUSC faculty member for five years prior. It has sort of rotated. Now, Victor Hirth, at USC in Columbia, is Principal Investigator. But within it, we have partners, and the partners are working together. One common goal, for example, is that we have an annual Aging Research Day when social services, healthcare providers, basic scientists, and clinical researchers come together. And it’s grown; it’s enormously popular.
This year it was at Clemson, and next year it will be at MUSC. And that’s one way. Another way is that we work with agencies, for example, Alzheimer’s Association, Aging in Place, and other community associations. And what we now have is a statewide organization called South Carolina Aging Research Network (SCARN). It’s a funny name. We’re trying to, actually, involve North Carolina now, so then we might be CARN, and our Aging Research Day could be called the CARNival.
Sally Smith: You’re on a roll with this one. I can see that.
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Yep.
Sally Smith: Well, you know, I have been absolutely fascinated. This morning, in the Wall Street Journal, an article was written about nursing homes, actually. And, in that article, the statistic was quoted that the nursing home business, in this country, is now 122 billion dollars per year. This is big business, and it is a growing field. We know that as the baby boomers hit the age of 65 years of age, 10,000 a day will be turning 65. And these people are all living longer and are, therefore, exposed to more diseases, and issues. So, there needs to be some sort of common get together so everybody’s not reinventing the wheel on their own. There’s really a powerful need, which, I’m sure, is what’s driven this sort of community thing.
Another thing that you have done that’s so interesting is you have tried to be proactive given that these older people are going to be taking such a huge part of healthcare going forward. You’re also involved in dealing with curriculum for medical students.
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: Yes. We developed a program together, actually, with USC, University of South Carolina, in Columbia. And it has proven to be an effective way to help the medical students to meet and work with someone who’s an older adult. It’s called the Senior Mentor Program.
Sally Smith: And how do you see the Center on Aging going forward? I notice that one of the goals is to be a Center of Excellence. I know the goal is to improve life long term. As you move forward in this, I noticed your funding has gone, in a few short years, to something like 23 million dollars, as opposed to, in the late 90s, 3 million, or something like that. Obviously, there are goals for where this may go and how to do it. If you have a Center of Excellence, what does that mean?
Lotta Granholm-Bentley: It simply means that the National Institutes on Aging, which has these centers, will fund infrastructure. They’re called Pepper Centers or Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers. It simply means that the National Institutes of Health will afford us money to build infrastructure, where we can provide pilot grants for startup research, where we can actually get money to do the outreach activities that we do. It also brings recognition. It allows us to go beyond where we are now. We’re actually a fairly small operation, doing a lot with a small amount of money. So, I think it would give us national recognition.
Sally Smith: Well, this same article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that 25 percent of all funding now goes to health-related issues, and a huge amount of that is trying to stave off the collapse of our healthcare system, where we’re going to have all these people and we’re going to run out ways to solve it. We need to solve the Alzheimer’s rather than figure out how to have hospital and nursing home beds for all these patients. So, we’re thrilled that you’re working on it. I can tell you that.
Thank you so much, Lotta for being with us today. I appreciate your thoughts on this very important issue. And thanks to all our listeners for joining us. We welcome your suggestions. This is Sally Smith, Age to Age, saying goodbye and wishing you courage and joy on your journey. We are all connected.
If you enjoy listening to Sally Smith, you can buy her book, The Circle. It’s the story of how she personally responded to her mother’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a wonderful gift of hope for anyone with a parent with dementia. Just click on Sally Smith’s name under the Health Professionals tab on the Podcast home page. All profits support research at the Center on Aging. Thanks.