Mary Tinetti is a physician who has pioneered the study of a long-recognized, but previously little-investigated, public health problem in gerontology: morbidity due to falls by elderly people. Early in her career, Tinetti undertook efforts to deconstruct the prevailing notion of falls — “accidents” unavoidably associated with advanced age — to establish quantitative relationships between known risk factors and injury. In one study, Tinetti and her colleagues performed a controlled intervention that demonstrated for the first time that the frequency and severity of falls can be reduced significantly and that measured the efficacy of intervention against specific risk factors. She subsequently extended this work to take into account an elderly person’s living situation, whether at home or under various types of institutional care. More recently, she has championed the notion that injuries from falling (and increased risk of falling) should be reconceived as an integral part of the diagnosis and treatment of elderly patients who suffer from comorbid diseases such as hypotension, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and insomnia. She has investigated the relationship among medicines to treat these conditions, over-the-counter medicines, and possible increased risk for falls with significant injury. Even with her prolific empirical research, Tinetti maintains a focus on the health of individual patients. For example, she has created a large-scale, interdisciplinary program in Connecticut that aims to prevent falling and reduce the effects of injuries by integrating fall prevention exercises into routine health care of older adults. With her multidimensional strategies, Tinetti is developing a more sophisticated approach for treating the elderly and pushing the field of geriatrics toward a comprehensive understanding of how the ailments of aging can accumulate in unexpected ways.
Mary Tinetti received a B.A. (1973) from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and an M.D. (1978) from the University of Michigan Medical School. She is currently the Gladys Phillips Crofoot Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Public Health in the Division of Geriatrics at Yale School of Medicine, where she also serves as director of the Yale Program on Aging. She has been affiliated with Yale University since 1984, when she joined the faculty as an assistant professor of medicine.