News at Medicine - March 2012 - Funding awarded to healthy aging research projects

Funding awarded to healthy aging research projects
March 16, 2012
New funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program will support four research projects at Memorial as well as the work of three graduate students. The provincial government awarded approximately $186,000 in the latest round of funding to facilitate a stronger focus on research on aging and seniors.

Dr. Peter Wang, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, will receive a $20,000 seed grant for a pilot project which will assess dietary intake and adequacy of elderly residents of Newfoundland. The pilot study will be conducted in 100 selected eligible subjects to see if a large population-based study is feasible.

“While a balanced and healthy diet is important for people across all age groups, it is even more so for elderly people as they tend to be physically vulnerable,” said Dr. Wang. “Yet little is known about the dietary adequacy and how it affects the health of the elderly population in Newfoundland and Labrador. Despite the well-known dietary and cultural differences between Newfoundland and Labrador and the rest of Canada, there has been no nutritional epidemiological research conducted here.” 

Three project grants were awarded. Dr. Jacqueline Hesson, Faculty of Education, will receive $39,804 for a study new study she is conducting with Dr. Michael Grant, Faculty of Medicine, titled Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Immune Risk Phenotype and Cognitive Functioning in the Oldest Old.

"Like good physical health, healthy cognitive functioning contributes to successful aging in that it allows elderly individuals to maintain their ability to live and function independently,” explained Dr. Hesson. “There is some evidence in the current literature that suggests a link between CMV infection and impaired cognitive function in the elderly.  While CMV infection is extremely common, occurring in about 70 percent of adults, a fraction of that 70 per cent have an immune response against CMV that over time develops into what is called an immune risk phenotype.”

Dr. Hesson said the immune risk phenotype is associated with a number of issues in the elderly, which may have similar underlying pathology to that of neurocognitive impairment. “This is why we think that the immune risk phenotype might identify individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline. Therefore, we have planned a study to estimate the prevalence of immune risk phenotypes in the elderly Newfoundland population, identify elderly individuals with or without an immune risk phenotype, measure baseline cognitive function in the members of both groups and monitor changes in cognitive function in both groups over a two-year period.”

Dr. Jeanette Byrne of Memorial University’s School of Human Kinetics and Recreation will receive $16,620 to complete her study, Fall Prevention in Seniors in the Greater St. John's Area: A Qualitative and Quantitative Examination of a Fall Prevention Program. With Dr. Michelle Ploughman, she will identify the beliefs and experiences of seniors with respect to fall risk and fall prevention and examine whether a 10-week exercise and education program designed to reduce fall risk will result in reduction in fall risk and subsequent fall incidence compared to education alone.

“Currently there are very few fall prevention initiatives in our province that target community dwelling seniors,” explained Dr. Byrne. “Hospitals and long-term care facilities in the province have targeted programs aimed at reducing fall risk, however healthy, active, community dwelling seniors are also at substantial risk for falls. Once falls occur in this population health problems, loss of independence and even death can occur. This research will help address this lack of attention played to fall prevention in the community and in the long term we hope it will lead to more permanent establishment of such programs throughout the province.”

Dr. Guangju Zhai, Discipline of Genetics,will receive $40,000 for the project Metabolomics of Aging – Identification of Metabolic Biomarkers of Aging that the project is based on the existing metabolomics data from TwinsUK cohort and the funding from will support a statistician to analyze the data, which involves 6,000 Caucasian individuals from U.K.

The funding from the Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program also supports graduate students at Memorial. Roberta Didonato, Department of Psychology, will receive $60,000 over two years to examine how age-related hearing loss impacts memory in older adults.  Elizabeth Wallack and Lin Liu, Division of Community Health and Humanities, will each receive $5,000 to further their studies. Ms. Wallack will examine The Impact of a Skype-Delivered Dementia Caregiver Intervention on Caregiver Burden. Ms. Liu’s study is titled Dietary Intake and Eating Patterns of Elderly People in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program is administered by the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research. In the past four years, approximately $730,000 has been distributed through the Newfoundland and Labrador Healthy Aging Research Program.