Research Areas and Programs

The best clinical care and education begins with innovative and clinically relevant scientific research.  We host the powerful combination of clinicians identifying patient-relevant questions and researchers discovering the answers.  We have one of the nation’s largest concentrations of researchers studying aging and mental health related issues, health services geriatric researchers who are working to find “the right treatment for the right person at the right time.”
The PPA serves as a home for research collaboration.  We currently have 20 affiliates within the University of Michigan in the departments of Psychiatry, Geriatric Medicine, Internal Medicine and Family Medicine, and in the Schools of Public Health and Social Work.  We also forge relationships with other major institutions around the country and the VA in order to take advantage of the best minds working together.
Our ongoing research examines:

  • individualized programs to improve successful treatment of later-life depression
  • racial differences in the acceptability, preference and effectiveness of depression treatments
  • investigation of the health risks of some mental health medications for older adults
  • neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia and depression
  • increased substance abuse risks and tailored treatments for those in later-life
  • integration of medical and mental health care
  • use of complementary therapies, such as mindfulness meditation, especially in the prevention of later-life depression and anxiety
  • depression related to retirement
  • care for seriously mental ill patients in nursing homes, and
  • health policy issues relevant to older adults, such as Medicare coverage

It is our commitment to continue to remain objective in our research discovery by not accepting industry-sponsored funding.  This requires us to compete for more limited avenues for research support, but protects the veracity of our findings and our academic reputation.


Dr. Donovan Maust Receives Paul Beeson Career Development Award in Aging Research 

Congratulations to PPA faculty member Dr. Donovan Maust on receiving Paul Beeson Career Development Award in Aging Research.  The National Institute on Aging, The Atlantic Philanthropies, The John A. Hartford Foundation, and the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Strokes collaborate on this initiative to sustain and promote the research careers of clinically trained individuals who are pursuing research careers in aging. The program is aimed at addressing the current and severe shortage of clinically trained faculty who have the combination of medical, academic, and scientific training to improve the care of our nation’s older people. The program provides three to five years of mentored career development support to enable investigators to gain skills and experience in aging research, and to establish an independent program of research in this field.

Dr. Maust is one of only a small handful of geriatric psychiatry researchers in the country and one of an even smaller number pursuing geriatric mental health services research.  He was recruited to University of Michigan in 2013 and quickly became fully immersed in clinical, teaching and research activities.  This is reflected in the rapid conceptualization and articulation of his research agenda and submission of the Beeson proposal within a few months of arriving at UM.  His focus in the 4-year Beeson CDA will be the role of neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia (e.g. agitation, aggression, depression, etc.) in potentially preventable hospitalizations. Although hospitalization can negatively impact patients with dementia, we know very little about the specific risk factors associated with the chance of being hospitalized. It is important to understand what contributes to this risk, such as the behavior changes that accompany dementia, in order to identify those patients and caregivers that could benefit most from an intervention to avoid or reduce hospitalization. Given the rapidly rising numbers of patients with dementia, reducing potentially preventable hospitalization could have an enormous impact on public health.

Dr. Amanda Leggett Receives Phil Jenkins Award for Innovation in Depression Treatment

Congratulations to PPA junior investigator Dr. Amanda Leggett on receiving the Phil Jenkins Award for Innovation in Depression Treatment. In 2011, the University of Michigan received a gift from local business entrepreneur and community leader Phil F. Jenkins to stimulate creative ideas about ways to improve treatment or self-management of depression. The award is intended to empower students and faculty to bring creative ideas to life, such as new diagnostic tests, treatment strategies, clinical monitoring approaches, or emerging products that would improve overall wellness.

With support from the Phil Jenkins Award, Dr. Leggett will be aiming to target sleep disturbance as a preventive intervention for depression.  Sleep problems are commonly experienced by older adults and put individuals at increased risk for the development of depression.  In a first step of her project, Dr. Leggett will conduct a focus group that determines the feasibility of bright light glasses called “re-timers” as a sleep disturbance preventive intervention and identifies potential barriers and challenges to adherence among older adults.  Re-timer glasses are an innovative new technology that uses bright light therapy delivered through eye glasses to regulate the circadian rhythm. Next daily use of the glasses will be piloted among older adults with sleep disturbance and mild symptoms of depression.  If the “re-timer” glasses can improve sleep and prevent depressive symptomatology, they could be incorporated into older adult’s daily routine and help them self-manage their sleep and mood- ultimately preventing severe distress before it starts and reducing costly health service use.


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