Home » Diversity and Inclusion » Diversity Profile: Meet Our Researchers » Featured Researcher: Miriam C. Morey, PhD

Featured Researcher: Miriam C. Morey, PhD

Associate Professor of Medicine – Geriatrics

miriam-moreyEvery once in a while a person gets extraordinarily lucky.  That was me, 27 years ago when I landed at the Duke Aging Center.  Little did I know that the Aging Center would give me the knowledge, tools, skillset, and support to launch a career in clinical research focused on physical activity and aging.  I have been equally blessed that the Aging Center and the Durham VA Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center have longstanding collaborative working relationships.  This allowed me to direct an ongoing clinical exercise program for older Veterans, called Gerofit, while at the same time launch several clinical trials aimed at improving physical functioning in older adults through the Aging Center’s Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.  It has been and continues to be both an honor and a delight to come to work each day.

Over the years, we have shown that it’s never too late to start exercise; that you can experience a positive gain in health benefit, both physical and mental, with exercise; and that you can delay normal age-related declines by remaining physically active.  We have collaborated on several landmark studies of exercise and dietary lifestyle directed at older cancer survivors and developed extensive expertise in the development of home-based exercise interventions that we have delivered to diverse groups of older adults (stroke patients, intensive care survivors, older adults at high functional risk, and overweight pre-diabetics) who stand to benefit from being physically active.  This year we received $835,000 to implement the Gerofit program at 4 VA Medical Centers across the country!

The most exciting thing about being part of the Aging Center is that you get to collaborate with all sorts of wonderful people. This past year I have focused more on acute and transitions of care and have had the opportunity to work with young investigators implementing a walking program for hospitalized older adults and a walking program for older adults transitioning between hospitalization and early discharge. Both of these programs have demonstrated remarkable maintenance of physical function during the vulnerable periods of hospitalization and discharge with substantial potential for cost savings to the health care system.

I have also been working with a group of geriatricians, surgeons and anesthesiologists who have an interest in improving the outcomes of the older surgical candidate. The literature suggests that while old age is a risk factor for poor outcomes following surgery, low physical fitness and poor physical function are even stronger predictors of risk than age. One of the strongest predictors of functional risk for surgical outcomes is based on a simple test (the Timed-Up and Go Test (Tug) in which a person is asked to rise from a chair, walk around a cone that is ten feet away and return to sitting. A TUG score of 15 seconds or more is a strong predictor of post-operative discharge to an institution. In our preliminary research in this area we observed a decrease from 23 seconds to 14 seconds (39% improvement) in just under 3 weeks of exercise training in an 82-year old man meeting objective criteria for intermediate frailty. We also documented 16% and 21% improvement in chair stands and 6-minute walk distance in an older woman with only 3 weeks of exercise training between the diagnosis of cancer and abdominal oncology surgery.

There remains much to be done in the exercise world.  Every day brings new opportunities and the Aging Center is the perfect place to have them come to fruition.