Mapping the Complexities of Aging

An NIH-funded study is helping understand dementia and inform policy development for aging populations in India.

By Giriraj Agarwal

January 2023

Mapping the Complexities of Aging

Minki Chatterji (second from left) is involved in carrying out research initiatives and projects into the study of late-life cognition and dementia, and works with several Indian partners, including All India Institute of Medical Sciences, International Institute for Population Sciences and Venu Institute. (Photograph courtesy Minki Chatterji)

Minki Chatterji covers the Global Health and Cognitive Epidemiology portfolio that includes population aging research initiatives and Harmonized Cognitive Assessment Protocol (HCAP) projects at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of the institutes within the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). She provides administrative and technical oversight for the Longitudinal Aging Study in India-Diagnostic Assessment of Dementia (LASI-DAD) project, which maps the study of late-life cognition and dementia.

Funded by NIA, LASI-DAD involves multiple U.S. and Indian partners including the University of Southern California, Harvard University, University of California at Los Angeles, University of California at San Francisco, University of Michigan, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pittsburgh, the University of Minnesota, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, International Institute for Population Sciences and Venu Institute.

Excerpts from an interview.

You were recently in India for the Longitudinal Aging Study in India-Diagnostic Assessment of Dementia (LASI-DAD) wave 2 study. Could you tell us about this important initiative, and why it matters to the United States and India?

India, one of the most populous countries in the world, will soon experience rapid aging. By 2050, India’s population aged 60 years and older is projected to reach 320 million, about the current size of the entire U.S. population.

LASI-DAD enables researchers to study late-life cognition and dementia, and its risk factors, in this growing population.

Although a rising burden of dementia presents an urgent challenge, previous efforts to study this condition have relied on samples in geographically limited regions. The LASI-DAD is significant not only in providing a new scientific foundation for dementia research in India using nationally representative data, but also in its rich data on risk factors, including genetics and exposure to air pollution.

The LASI-DAD sample is drawn from the larger Longitudinal Aging Study of India (LASI), a survey of the health, economic and social well-being of people aged 45 and older. Its large sample of over 72,000 represents the national population with sufficient sample sizes across the country.

LASI-DAD recruited a sub-sample of over 4,000 LASI respondents aged 60 or older from 19 states and union territories across India, administered the HCAP cognitive tests, and interviewed a family member or friend identified through participants.

These projects provide accurate information about dementia to government agencies and non-governmental organizations that help inform policy development and program implementation for aging populations in India.

The projects are also important for NIH and NIA because the data provides researchers the opportunity to conduct comparative analyses. It is hoped that this research will help identify risk and protective factors for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, which will help improve the lives of the aging population worldwide.

What do you think are some of the areas the United States and India can deepen collaboration in health research, and why?

The U.S.-India collaboration on the LASI and LASI-DAD projects are a great example for us moving forward. NIA has been focused on developing comparable data for aging and dementia research across countries , including the U.S. Health and Retirement Study. The development of the HCAP was intended to make it possible to have internationally comparable data for population-based dementia research. The LASI and LASI-DAD studies are a step in this direction.

Another example of collaboration in the context of LASI and LASI-DAD was the ability to move rapidly to collect real-time data about COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.

In addition, given projections that climate change will worsen the effects of infectious diseases in the future, there will be opportunities to use these internationally comparable studies to examine these effects.

Could you tell us a little bit about your experiences working on this study in India? Do you have any favorite places you visited? Any favorite foods, films, or experiences you’d like to share with our readers?

It was great to be back in India after the pandemic. After wrapping up my official activities in Delhi, I took my parents to Kolkata for a visit filled with a lot of nostalgia whilst visiting Prinsep Ghat, Victoria Memorial and Gariahat Market. I’m also a big foodie, so coming to India is always a big treat!

You are a public health expert and a working parent. Would you like to share any message to young people in India, particularly to young women on higher education or a career in the sciences?

I am a global health expert and proud mother of three daughters, ages 25, 22 and 16. While it was challenging to balance my global health career and parenting, I was blessed to have the strong support of my wonderful husband who did so much to enable my career to blossom. I also think that my career has inspired my daughters to pursue their professional dreams as well.

My message to the young people in India, particularly young women, is to aim high while striving for work-life balance. I look forward to seeing the achievements of the next generation of women and men. In terms of health inequality, I see great progress and I look forward to even more through our partnership.


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