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PhD candidate Yiyang Yuan to study depression, frailty, cognitive impairment in nursing home residents

NIH pre/postdoctoral fellowship funds dissertation and postdoc research

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

October 06, 2020
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Yiyang Yuan

Yiyang Yuan, PhD candidate in the Clinical & Population Health Research Program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, received a fellowship award from the National Institutes of Health to support research examining the association between physical frailty, cognitive impairment and depression in older adults.

The award is a combined predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowship that will fund Yuan’s dissertation, and once that is complete, her research as a postdoc.

“I was born and raised in China. I went to undergraduate college in Shanghai studying biological sciences, and it wasn’t until 2012 that I came to the U.S. to advance my education. This opportunity is amazing. I am so grateful and honored to be able to move forward with my work,” Yuan said.

The predoctoral phase of Yuan’s project will focus on physical frailty and cognitive impairment in older residents in U.S. nursing homes by characterizing the prevalence, clinical presentation and trajectories of these two conditions.

“Studies on the burden and development of these two conditions in older nursing home residents are limited. We are working with a vulnerable population that can sometimes be neglected in research, so I hope to use this study to make a difference,” said Yuan. “We want to know who these people are and address their care needs.”

In the postdoctoral phase of the project, Yuan plans to extend the research on physical frailty and cognitive impairment to community-dwelling older adults, also examining the impact of depression and antidepressants in the development of both conditions. Yuan hopes to use longitudinal analysis to contribute to the knowledge of the underlying mechanisms of these correlated aging conditions and to inform preventative measures in the future.

“I want to look closer at what we can do as scientists to restore health in older people, such as exploring the progression trajectories of physical frailty and cognitive impairment, as well as identifying risk factors associated with the trajectories,” she said. “I hope my findings can inform prevention and intervention efforts to address the burden of physical frailty and cognitive impairment in the older adults residing in nursing homes, as well as to help those living in the community to better age in place.”

Yuan earned a Master of Public Health at University of California Los Angeles in 2014 and a Master of Science in health services research from Boston University in 2017.

“I am passionate about applying advanced epidemiologic methods and statistical techniques to leverage population-level data,” Yuan said. “I care a lot about the health of others, and I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to use research to impact populations, specifically those that need the most attention, such as the elderly. I hope this project will be a first step for me to better understand the dynamics of the intricate aging process and ultimately promote healthy longevity.”