Recent Research Activities

The Center for Excellence in Aging’s Research Core focuses on developing new collaborations across different disciplines in basic and clinical research. The Core’s goal is to translate findings into improved prevention and patient care. Below are examples of recent research activities.

Dignity Therapy as a Supportive Intervention for Individuals with Advanced Neurodegenerative Disease

Age-friendly care is important for the management of advanced neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and related disorders. PD is the fastest growing neurological disorder worldwide. Consistent with age-friendly care’s emphasis on what matters and prioritizing mentation, the value of interdisciplinary approaches and spiritual well-being are increasingly appreciated in PD clinical and research settings. Dignity Therapy (DT) is a life-review intervention that includes the production of a legacy document that can be shared with loved ones. Through a pilot grant from the Rush Center for Excellence in Aging (CEA), this study determined the feasibility and acceptability of implementing DT in a neuropalliative clinic and examined preliminary efficacy.

Principal investigator(s): Dirk Labuschagne, MDiv, MPH; Jori Fleisher, MD, MSCE; George Fitchett, DMin, PhD. Funding agency: CEA Pilot Grant; Dates of grant/study: 2021-2023

A Collaborative Report on the Aging Undocumented Population of Illinois

Undocumented individuals face pervasive and structural barriers due to their immigration status that block them from the services older adults depend on to successfully age in place. Meanwhile, Illinois has among the highest populations of U.S. undocumented individuals (400,000+). The movement of the population into senior years has substantial implications for public systems of health, health care and social services throughout the state.

This report explores how the undocumented population in Illinois will continue to grow by 2030, as well as discuss in depth the implications of that data. The Rush Department of Social Work & Community Health, the Rush Center for Excellence in Aging, the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the Center for Community Health Equity decided to collaborate on a project to better understand the current undocumented older adult population and estimate its expected growth over the next decade. These aforementioned partners at Rush University Medical Center worked with Rob Paral & Associates to find these estimates, and subsequently convened a collaborative of individuals with both personal experience, as well as professional experience working with the undocumented community, older adults, and/or their intersections.

Principal investigator(s): Padraic Stanley, LCSW; Brittney Lange-Maia, PhD, MPH

Religious Orders Study

More than 1,100 older religious clergy (nuns, priests and brothers) have agreed to medical and psychological evaluation each year and brain donation after death. Researchers are using information from the study to discover what changes in the brain are responsible for memory and movement problems. The study also looks closely at the transition from normal functioning of the aging brain to the mild cognitive impairment that can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.

Principal investigator(s): David Bennett, MD; Funding agency: National Institutes of Health Dates of grant/study: 1994 to 2016

Online Dementia Family Caregiver Study

Recruitment is ongoing for the Chronic Grief Management Intervention-An Online Video Group (CGMI-V), a clinical trial funded by the National Institute on Aging. CGMI-V aims to help caregivers after placing a family member diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia in long-term care.

For more information, please visit here or call Dr. Paun (PI) at 312-942-6996 or email

Principal investigator(s): Olimpia Paun, PhD, PMHCNS-BC, FGSA

Study design involves a detailed assessment of risk factors for AD in older persons without known dementia who agree to annual clinical evaluation and organ donation at the time of death. “By participating in the Memory and Aging Project, you join us in our efforts to better understand, treat and hopefully prevent these problems associated with abnormal aging. Study participants must agree to yearly testing and organ donation, since Alzheimer’s disease can be best documented by examining brain tissue under a microscope after death.”

Principal investigator(s): David Bennett, MD; Funding agency: National Institute on Aging; Dates of grant/study: 2001 to 2019

The Minority Aging Research Study is a unique study designed for older African Americans. The goal is to learn how to prevent common problems associated with aging, including poor memory, slowed walking and weakness. We want to understand why we lose certain abilities as we get older, figure out how to improve these abilities, and discover ways to prevent aging-related problems from affecting our children and grandchildren.

Principal investigator(s): Lisa Barnes, PhD; Funding agency: National Institute of Aging; Dates of grant/study: 2004 to 2021

Latino CORE Study

The goal is to learn about the aging process and the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease of older Latino adults.

Principal investigator(s): David Bennett, MD; Funding agency: National Institute on Aging; Dates of grant/study: 2015 to 2021

Mediterranean-DASH Intervention From Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) Diet Intervention Trial

The MIND Diet is combination of Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on “brain-healthy food groups.” Although many factors determine who gets Alzheimer’s Disease and who doesn’t, this trial is looking at the effects of this diet in providing more protection from the disease.

Principal investigator(s): Martha Clare Morris, ScD; Funding agency: National Institute on Aging; Dates of grant/study: 2017 to 2020

Rush University Medical Center is a member of the Institute for Translational Medicine (ITM) in partnership with the University of Chicago. ITM is a network of more than 60 NIH-supported sites across the country working to slash the time it takes to develop and share new treatments and health approaches. ITM works with you and for you to make participating in health research easy, so that together we improve health care for all. To learn more, please visit the ITM website.