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The Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development was one of five centers for aging research established by the Surgeon General of the United States in 1955. It is the only continuously funded member of the original group. With more than 126 Faculty (Senior Fellows) and core staff members garnering and more than $20 million in annual age-related research funding, it remains a vital national resource for the study of aging. Current research includes studies of age-related functional decline and dysmobility, genomic, proteonic and metabolomic biomarkers of aging, exercise, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and aging, viral diseases of aging, depression in later life, caregiver stress, and religion/spirituality and health. The Center also is involved in an ambitious program designed to identify and educate future geriatricians.

Duke’s research and teaching programs in geriatrics are among the nation’s oldest. Geriatric Medicine at Duke has been a major strength of the Aging Center since 1984 with the creation of the Geriatric Division in the Department of Medicine and the Center. The Division of Geriatrics has distinguished itself as a leader in clinical care, research, and education. This sustained success is due in large part to its visionary leadership and abundant resources, including grants to the Aging Center such as the Claude D. Pepper OAIC and Hartford Center of Excellence. The VA Medical Center also hosts a Geriatrics Research, Education, and Clinical Center which is closely integrated with the Center. The Division’s Geriatrics Fellowship Training Program has committed itself to placing its best trainees in leadership positions around the nation. We count numerous division chiefs and program directors among our former fellows and junior faculty.


Until recently, most Americans regarded aging as inevitable and undesirable. Growing older was seen as a process over which individuals had little control, much less as something that could be done well. Old age–the trip “over the hill”–was something to postpone for as long as possible.

But as the bulk of our nation’s population reaches their middle years, aging is being regarded with positive interest. Americans want to know how to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. They want to plan for retirement and keep their independence for as long as possible. In other words, they want to age well.


The Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development has been studying successful aging–and applying the results of its research–for more than 50 years (see History of the Center). Long before “aging” became a topic of conversation and a national concern, far-sighted academicians at Duke University documented and understood the implications of an aging population. The leaders were men and women whose distinction is now recognized nationally and internationally, including biochemist Philip Handler, PhD, demographer Joseph Spengler, PhD, economist Juanita Kreps, PhD, psychiatrist Ewald W. Busse, MD, and Duke Chancellor William Anlyan, MD.

They were backed by an equally progressive university administration that chartered a university council on aging in 1955 to promote and coordinate multidisciplinary research, training and service. Two years later, the US Public Health Service designated the Duke center as one of five regional resource centers on aging. The Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development is the oldest continually-funded member of the original group.

The center’s first initiatives included the Duke Longitudinal Studies, a 20-year project begun in 1956 that monitored the physical, mental, social and economic status of approximately 800 older adults. These studies, which received the 1983 Sandoz International Prize for multidisciplinary research in aging, documented the capacity of older adults to age well, helping revolutionize thinking about human aging. In 1975, the Older Americans Resources and Services (OARS) Program developed the first comprehensive technique for assessment of functional impairment in the elderly. OARS methods, updated to reflect changes in the aging population, still are used in hundreds of research studies and geriatric clinics across the country. Duke’s Geriatric Evaluation and Treatment (GET) Clinic, opened in 1967, continues to serve older adults from throughout the southeastern United States. Since 1988 the Center’s Long Term Care Resources Program has assisted North Carolina in developing and implementing sound public policies for serving older adults and their families in the long term.


Leadership in Aging has been one of the hallmarks of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. The center has produced six Presidents of The Gerontological Society of America: Ewald W. Busse, MD, Carl Eisdorfer, MD, George L. Maddox, PhD, Linda K. George, PhD, Harvey Jay Cohen, MD and Lisa Gwyther, MSW. Three center scholars have served as President of the American Geriatrics Society: Ewald W. Busse, MD, Dan G. Blazer, MD, PhD, and Harvey Jay Cohen, MD. At the international level, Dr. Busse served as President, and Dr. Maddox as Secretary General/Vice President of the International Association of Gerontology, 1985-89. These individuals and many others have held important offices in the most prestigious organizations in gerontology and geriatrics.


Under the leadership of Director Heather Whitson, MD, MHS, the Duke center continues to serve as a national resource for information about aging and as a training ground for future generations of researchers, teachers, practitioners and planners

Duke researchers understand that the growing number of older adults will have a significant impact on our society’s arrangements for income maintenance, health care, social services, housing and transportation. Studies being conducted at Duke today already are addressing the complex health problems of a longer-lived population, and developing programs that will enable the elderly to receive care while maintaining their independence for as long as possible.

The center plans to initiate and expand its aging research in several areas in the future:

  • Cellular and molecular biology of aging
  • Interventions to enhance longevity
  • Health care and health services utilization
  • Cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Family relationships in later life
  • Improving disability for osteoporosis and Pagets disease of bone
  • Risk factors for chronic disease and mental illness
  • The economic status of older adults

We invite interested researchers and colleagues at both Duke and other institutions to join in the collaboration.