McMaster University

McMaster University

Nearly $6 million to fund new research program on aging at home

By Amanda Boundris

Maureen Markle-Reid and Jenny Ploeg
Associate Professor Maureen Markle-Reid and Professor Jenny Ploeg

A team of researchers from the McMaster School of Nursing has received $5.8 million to fund the new Aging, Community and Health Research Unit.

"Our major goal is to promote optimal aging at home for older adults with multiple chronic conditions and to support their family caregivers," said Professor Jenny Ploeg. "The program will design and evaluate new and innovative community-based health-care interventions to improve access to health care, quality of life, and health outcomes in this population, while reducing costs."

On June 26 it was announced that the program will receive $2.5 million over five years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. This funding is in addition to the $3.3 million over three years from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, announced on June 5.

The new research unit will be co-led by Ploeg and Maureen Markle-Reid, associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Aging, Chronic Disease and Health Promotion Interventions. Their team includes nursing faculty Sharon Kaasalainen, Ruta Valaitis, Noori Akhtar-Danesh, Carrie McAiney, and several other faculty members from across the University.

"This funding builds on our current work in the area of health and nursing interventions for community-living seniors and their family caregivers," said Ploeg. "The research team is an exceptionally strong group of 30 co-investigators and more than 25 collaborators and partners from across Canada, from multiple disciplines. We will be addressing important topics that Maureen and I are both extremely committed to."

The research program is made up of seven interrelated studies to be conducted in Ontario and Alberta. They will focus on the prevention and management of multiple chronic conditions (MCC). Specifically, the studies will target seniors with MCC who have dementia, Type 2 diabetes and/or stroke.

"These three vascular conditions tend to co-exist and are considered among the most prevalent chronic diseases amongst seniors," said Markle-Reid, adding that they tend to have the same risk factors.

The researchers said work in this area is important right now because people with MCC account for 40 per cent of reported health-care use among seniors in Canada. These adults report poorer health status, take five or more prescription medications and are at particularly high risk for falls, hospitalization and death.

Markle-Reid added that 80 per cent or more of care at home is provided by family caregivers, mostly women who also have their own health issues.

"So, our research is about reducing the burden on them as well, and supporting them and their needs. They are a very important group to study," she said. "We need more of a family-centred approach."

Five integrated knowledge translation events will be held and other collaborative knowledge translation strategies will be used to share the study results with key stakeholders and to plan ways to implement successful programs more widely. Ploeg said in five years, "Our hope is that we’ll have a better idea of the effectiveness and combination of strategies to help people age at home, we’ll put these into practice, and that we’ll scale up these interventions."

Markle-Reid said the research team is also committed to mentoring and training new investigators, including students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty, in the field of aging.

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