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New ‘Living Lab’ collaboration between UCSD and senior-living community will look into aging successfully

Anthony Molina of UC San Diego discusses the upcoming "Living Lab" on aging operated by UCSD at Belmont Village La Jolla.
Anthony Molina of UC San Diego discusses the upcoming “Living Lab,” a research project on aging operated by UCSD at Belmont Village Senior Living La Jolla.
(Belmont Village)
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In an effort to understand what defines aging successfully, UC San Diego will operate a “Living Lab” at Belmont Village Senior Living La Jolla, a 17-story, 187-unit upscale senior apartment community that opened in August.

The Living Lab will start in early 2023 with research associates conducting informational interviews with Belmont Village residents. It will be run by UC San Diego’s Stein Institute for Research on Aging, said Anthony Molina, the institute’s scientific director and vice chief of research in the UCSD Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology & Palliative Care.

The lab’s aim is to “engage older adults in our research not just as participants, which is historically how we work with older adults in clinical research, but also as collaborators and advisors for the work we do,” Molina said.

“What should we be working on? What are the things that matter to them?” he said.

James Arp, senior executive director at Belmont Village, said the researchers will have their own space “so residents can stop them in the hallway and go to their office.”

The research is open to anyone at Belmont Village who wants to participate, he said.

The access that the scientists and residents will have to one another “is an ideal situation [to make] a difference for the future,” Arp said.

Belmont Village Senior Living La Jolla opened in August at 3880 Nobel Drive.
(Zack Benson)

The lab will carry out its research through a variety of formats that might include investigations into “lifestyles and behaviors that promote physical [or] cognitive function” or various interventions designed to promote resilience among older adults, Molina said.

The goal of Molina’s research at UCSD is to support healthy aging and advance precision health care for senior citizens. He said his work is not disease-focused but rather investigates factors influencing healthy longevity, involving “the physical domain, the cognitive domain, even the sensory domain and the quality-of-life domain.”

“We’ve known for a long time, for example, that one’s genetics can contribute to the health trajectory, but I’m more interested in things that we can do something about,” Molina said, including environment, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle.

“We’re really focused on the things that go well with aging,” he said.

“[The lab’s aim is to] engage older adults in our research not just as participants ... but also as collaborators and advisors for the work we do.”

— Anthony Molina, UC San Diego

Molina said he hopes the relationship with Belmont Village “lasts a very long time. It’s going to be a process of multiple different projects over time.”

The projects will be funded through grant proposals, he added.

Molina said he sees the Living Lab not just as a resource for his research program but also for others in UCSD’s School of Medicine, School of Engineering, Center for Research on Empathy and Compassion and more.

“I foresee this being a broader partnership that … is in the interest of our university more broadly to support,” he said.

Belmont Village Senior Living La Jolla, at 3880 Nobel Drive, offers options for independent living, assisted living and memory care. For more information, visit belmontvillage.com/locations/la-jolla-california. ◆