American Federation For Aging Research

The American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to support and advance healthy aging through biomedical research.

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About American Federation for Aging Research

The American Federation for Aging (AFAR) was founded in 1981 by Dr. Irving Wright, a prominent doctor, researcher, and educator in the field of geriatric medicine and cardiovascular disease. He knew that a large aging population boom was imminent and was troubled by the fact that there weren’t enough resources available for those who researched clinical care for the elderly. He started AFAR as a way to garner funds for researching diseases and problems that affect Americans aged 65 and above.

Since its incorporation, AFAR has granted over $172 million to more than 4,000 researchers at leading institutions nationwide. Their grants support all levels of scientists, from PhD students to highly specialized medical researchers. These grants help further scientific knowledge in the realm of geriatric medicine as well as furthering the careers of those who produce the research. AFAR funded research has helped us understand aging and its effect on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes. They are a highly regarded organization and are often quoted in the Huffington Post, PBS, and more.

Why We Chose to Feature This Organization

As life expectancies continue to rise, the quality of health doesn’t necessarily keep up. It’s no secret that as we age, we are more and more likely to develop diseases and ailments. In fact, eight out of ten older Americans have at least one chronic condition such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. As the older population becomes larger and grows older, we need to understand what causes these diseases and what can be done to treat them. As such, increased research in the field of geriatric medicine is one of the most pertinent needs of our society.  

AFAR has played a major role in advancing gerontology and continues to do so today. AFAR invests heavily in arthritis and Alzheimer’s research, which compliments two of our other featured organizations, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Arthritis Foundation.


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Funding Important Aging Research via Grants

Until recently, the science of aging and the science of chronic disease were separate. Now that it is known that aging can cause and exacerbate many diseases, the two are studied in conjunction. The field of geroscience, the interdisciplinary study of the relationship between aging and chronic disease, is gaining more and more traction, thanks to in part by organizations such as AFAR, who encourage its study with their research grants.  

Since its founding in 1981, AFAR has granted nearly $175 million to more than 4,000 researchers and students learning more about the science of aging. They fund students and researchers who investigate aging and its effect on diseases and quality of life. They support researchers of all levels, from first-year medical students to well-established doctors and professors. Their grantees have produced important research regarding the role of aging in regard to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and more.

In 2017, AFAR awarded over 70 grants to medical students, professors, postdoctoral associates and fellows, research associates, and the Dean of the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California. The grants can be broken down into the following categories: Research Grants for Junior Faculty, New Investigator Awards in Alzheimer’s Disease, Arthritis and Aging Research, Breakthroughs in Gerontology, Translational Research on Aging, Biology of Aging, Postdoctoral Transition Awards in Aging, Emerging Leaders Career Development Award in Aging, and Medical Student Training in Aging Research.


While most of AFAR’s grantee work is quite scientific and intended for the medical community, they bring easy to understand information to the masses with their “Infoaging” program. Available on their website, Infoaging uses the expertise of AFAR funded scientists to tell people about the biology of aging, diseases that commonly affect those over 50, how to age healthily, and an encyclopedia of articles written by aging experts.  We will discuss a few of their papers below.

Disease Center

As previously mentioned, many common diseases are caused or exacerbated by aging. In their section titled “Diseases and Aging”, AFAR offers an overview, risk factors, diagnosis procedures, treatment options, and news regarding new research on nine common diseases seen in older Americans. Each information brief is between 6-15 pages long. For the sake of brevity, we will explain their findings for prostate cancer and diabetes, two diseases that affect a large portion of the over 65 age group.

1. Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer diagnosed (following skin cancer) and the second most deadly (after lung cancer) form of cancer in men. The American Cancer Society estimates that every year, 240,000 new cases of prostate cancer are discovered, and approximately 34,000 men will die from the disease.

All men are at risk for prostate cancer, with the incident rate increasing significantly between ages 60-70. Black men are significantly more likely to develop the disease. There have been many studies done to link diet to risk factors, and while the findings are controversial, a high-fat diet may increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, most likely due to increased prevalence of obesity.

As with many types of cancer, signs and symptoms may take years to show. Prostate cancer that has significantly advanced can cause back pain, weight loss, fatigue, urine flow obstruction, increased urination, and a feeling of bladder fullness after urination. However, reduced urine flow is most often caused by benign prostatic hypertrophy and is, therefore, an unreliable indicator of prostate cancer. Due to the fact that symptoms take time to show, and the symptoms themselves can be unreliable, screening is recommended as a means of diagnosis.

There are two tests for prostate cancer that can be used before symptoms arise. They include the digital rectal examination, a physical examination, and a prostate-specific antigen test, a blood test that measures a substance released by the prostate gland. Both the National Cancer Institute and the American Urological Association recommend that both tests are performed annually on all men over age 50. In order to confirm a diagnosis, a biopsy of the prostate gland is required. At that point, the cancer is assessed to determine how aggressively it is growing and how far the cancer has spread within the body.

Many different treatment options are available. Patients must weigh the pros and cons of each treatment with their doctor, as there is no one “best” treatment. Options include waiting and active surveillance, surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, and chemotherapy.

In the “waiting and active surveillance” treatment option, the cancer’s growth is monitored before taking further action. Generally, prostate cancer is slow growing and not immediately life-threatening. If the tumor is small and the patient has no symptoms, or if the patient is older with other health problems that are lowering their life expectancy, a repeat biopsy of the growth will be performed one year after its initial discovery. If the spread and/or severity of the cancer has increased, a more aggressive treatment may be considered.

Surgical removal of the prostate gland and its surrounding tissue may be used to remove the cancer. An incision is made in the lower abdomen or in the skin between the scrotum and anus. As such, complications including urinary incontinence and impotence may occur.

Radiation therapy is another treatment option. X-rays or particles are targeted at cancerous cells. This option is optimal for cancer that is localized, meaning it hasn’t spread beyond the prostate gland. When used for localized cancer, radiation therapy is as effective as surgical removal.

For those with localized cancer who are not eligible for surgery, or those whose cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, hormonal therapy is an option. Male hormones such as testosterone encourage the growth of prostate cancer, while female hormones such as estrogen slow it. Various treatments involving the use of female hormones to slow the growth are available.

Chemotherapy is a last resort treatment and is used in patients whose cancer has spread far beyond the prostate gland and its surrounding tissue and when hormonal therapy is no longer effective. Medications are given orally, intravenously, or injected into the muscles. Chemotherapy can cause many adverse effects and does not offer a cure, only management.

2. Diabetes

Diabetes is defined as consistently high levels of glucose in the blood, due to either too little insulin or cells becoming resistant to its effects. There are three types of diabetes, with Type 2 being the main type seen in adults. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, increased thirst, weight loss, blurry vision, fatigue, and nausea.

It is recommended that everyone is routinely screened for diabetes every three years past the age of 45. If you are at a heightened risk for diabetes screening should take place more frequently. Those especially at risk for developing diabetes are aged 40 and above and are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, and are African American, Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander ethnicity.

The severity of complications of diabetes depends on the sugar levels. For older patients, having very high sugar levels (over 500) for a few days can lead to life-threatening complications, including coma. Moderately high levels (over 300) can cause fatigue, difficulty thinking, increased urinary incontinence, numbness in the legs, and nausea.

In addition to monitoring blood sugar levels, it is crucial that diabetics monitor their blood pressure and cholesterol. If left unchecked, complications such as blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage, heart disease and stroke, and amputations may occur.

The best treatment for diabetes is to prevent it altogether. Losing weight (even a moderate amount), improving the diet, and increasing physical activity have been proven to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. If an individual does develop diabetes, the first choice of action is putting the patient on a diet and exercise program in an attempt to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. A diet of 50-70% carbohydrates, 12-20% protein, and no more than 30% of fat is recommended.  If the diet doesn’t work, there are a few different oral medications available. For those that cannot maintain their symptoms with a combination of diet, exercise, and oral medications, insulin injections may be necessary. For elderly and frail diabetics, a less intensive approach to maintaining blood sugar levels is advised, so that side effects such as hypoglycemia are avoided.

There are many new developments for diabetes care currently being researched. From improved insulin delivery via implantable insulin pumps, oral insulin, and insulin inhalers, to better medications and pain-free monitoring systems, living with diabetes could be more tolerable in the future.


American Federation For Aging Research

Stephanie Lederman

Executive Director

Experience and Education
  • Director of Health Services at the American Red Cross
  • Master of Education and Public Health from Boston University
  • Bachelor of Arts in English from Emerson College

American Federation For Aging Research

Karen Wenderoff

Director of Development

Experience and Education
  • National Director of Development at the David Lynch Foundation
  • Master of Fine Arts in Theater Design from New York University
  • Bachelor of Arts in Theater from the University of California, Santa Cruz

American Federation For Aging Research

Frederica Blum

Finance Director

Experience and Education
  • Finance Controller at Women in Need
  • Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Queens College

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