McMaster University

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Labarge postdoc using ballroom dancing to prevent falls in seniors

Published: September 13, 2018
A group of older adults participate in the Dancing for Cognition and Exercise (DANCE) study led by Patricia Hewston.
A group of older adults participate in the Dancing for Cognition and Exercise (DANCE) study led by Patricia Hewston.

Patricia Hewston might not be a dancer by trade; but when she isn't in a clinic working as an occupational therapist or lab as a PhD in rehabilitation science, she's likely to be found in a dance studio, surrounded by lively music for the foxtrot or cha cha.

That's because her research, which focuses on older adults with early signs of dementia and frailty, is using adaptive ballroom dance as an innovative mind-body rehabilitation tool.

"Our vision is to inform best practices for falls-prevention and, ultimately, improve mobility and well-being in older adults," says Hewston, who is also a clinician-scientist and postdoctoral fellow at the department of medicine, McMaster University and the GERAS Centre for Aging Research.

The Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging (LCMA), housed within the McMaster Institute for Research in Aging (MIRA), is pleased to offer Hewston a platform to leverage that vision. As the first recipient of the prestigious Labarge Postdoctoral Fellowship in Mobility in Aging, funded by McMaster's chancellor Suzanne Labarge, Hewston will receive $155,000 over two years to support and build out her research project.

Her project is a logical extension of GERAS's recently completed 15-week Dancing for Cognition and Exercise (DANCE) study, which piloted the feasibility of a dancing program for older adults with early cognitive impairment and frailty in order to better understand the importance of mind-body activities.

This new program, Hewston says, will address the complex relationship between dance, gait and fall-risk using a similar structure, but also with the inclusion of a technology that measures gait called GAITRite.

Hewston is one of eight researchers at McMaster University to receive the latest round of funding from MIRA and LCMA to be used to explore the diverse connection between mobility and healthy aging.

Altogether, trainees are receiving $433,000 from the LCMA, and an additional $133,000 through matching contributions from other sources. 

"For older adults, mobility is a cornerstone of healthy aging and has a huge impact on physical and mental health, as well as social and economic independence," says Parminder Raina, scientific director for MIRA and LCMA. "This year's award recipients show promise and passion for advancing research in aging and mobility with potential for real-world impact."

Additional funding from MIRA, LCMA and its partner institute AGE-​WELL, Canada's Technology and Aging Network, includes:

Labarge Mobility Scholarships

The Labarge Mobility Scholarships are funded through the generous contributions of McMaster's Chancellor Suzanne Labarge, and valued at $15,000 for a master's student and $18,000 for a PhD student, both in their first year of study; these funds are matched by other sources for the second year of study. Recipients were selected for their demonstrated high academic achievements, proven interest in aging and mobility research and desire to collaborate with other disciplines. They are:

  • Stephanie Chauvin, a master's student in the School of Rehabilitation Science, Faculty of Health Sciences. Chauvin will work with McMaster's Marla Beauchamp, assistant professor at the School of Rehabilitation Science. Her proposed research will focus on advancing our understanding of the role of technology and home-based exercise programs for improving mobility among older adults.
  • Tanner Stokes, a PhD student in kinesiology, Faculty of Science. Stokes will work with Stuart Phillips, professor and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair within the Department of Kinesiology. His hope is to examine how exercise and nutrition influence skeletal muscle metabolism in older adults.

MIRA Post-Doctoral Fellowships

MIRA PDF awards are valued at $65,000 each to be dispersed over one or two years, and matched by at least $10,000 in additional funds from other sources. This year's MIRA postdoctoral fellows are:

  • Wael Brahim, who will work with McMaster's Faculties of Engineering and Health Sciences to improve traditional vital sign monitors, which can be disruptive for older adults with dementia. His goal is to develop and enable contactless health and monitoring systems that will eliminate these inconveniences through the use of remote monitoring and thermal camera capture.  
  • Nour El Shamy, who will work with McMaster's Faculties of Business, Health Sciences and Science to develop and test support systems that are tailored to the needs and challenges of older adults in the sometimes complex world of online shopping and e-commerce.
  • Cheng Zhu, whose research project will address the challenges older adults face in receiving timely and appropriate post-acute care after hospital discharge. She will work with McMaster's Faculties of Business, Health Sciences and Engineering to design a model that aims to enhance quality, economic impact and accessibility of integrated healthcare and mental health supports for older adults.

AGE-WELL-MIRA Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Shared funding from AGE-WELL and MIRA ($100,000 combined for two years) is intended to support trainees who wish to pursue or sustain their research training in technology and aging. This award provides partial funding to highly qualified postdoctoral candidates along with access to training and mentorship opportunities via AGE-WELL's Early Professionals, Inspired Careers program.

This year's fellow is Tara Kajaks, whose project is aimed at better understanding the safety and mobility implications in a spousal caregiving situation, where one spouse is the informal caregiver and at least one of the spouses has a mobility impairment.

"The final goal of the project will be to offer potential solutions, including new assistive technologies and strategies for improving existing technologies," says Kajaks. "In doing so, we intend to have a positive impact on the safety, independence, health and quality of life of older adults who live in their place of choice."

Since its launch in 2016, MIRA has been committed to optimizing the longevity of Canada's aging population through research, education, collaboration and support of talented researchers at critical stages in their careers. Interdisciplinary teams work alongside older adults and key stakeholders to find ways that will help Canadians spend more years living well.

MIRA also acts as a robust entry point to some of McMaster's existing research platforms in aging, including the Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging and the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal.

To learn more about MIRA, its funding and trainee opportunities, visit MIRA.McMaster.ca.

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