Dementia and falls feature in latest research funding

A four-year study to reduce falls in people with dementia through exercise has secured a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Government in the latest National Health and Medical Research Council grants.

Jacqueline Close
Associate Professor Jacqueline Close

Falls prevention in people with dementia, the effectiveness of robotic animals and reducing the risk of depression in older people were some of the big winners in the latest round of National Health and Medical Research Council grants announced by the Federal Government.

Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced more than $559 million in funding for 963 health and medical research grants, including $21 million allocated for dementia research.

Cancer attracted the highest amount of funding ($127.8 million) followed by cardiovascular disease ($69.4 million) and mental health ($59.5 million). Out of 10 research categories, dementia ranked number 8 in the total share of funding received.

Associate Professor Jacqueline Close, Principal Research Fellow at NeuRA and Conjoint Associate Professor at UNSW, secured over $1.2 million to lead a four-year project to study the impact of regular exercise on the prevention of falls in older people with dementia.

A/Prof Close said one in four people with dementia who are admitted to hospital are admitted directly as a result of a fall, and a disproportionate number of people with hip fractures are older people with dementia.

“For many a hip fracture means the end of their ability to live in the community and a number will end up in residential aged care,” said A/Prof Close.

The randomised controlled trial will focus on people with dementia living in the community and will build on her earlier findings which found that balance and depressive symptoms were the most important risk factors for falls in people with dementia.

The intervention will combine exercise – particularly balance training – with an occupational therapy assessment to advise people on how to interact safely with their environment.

“We will be taking the time to assess people’s preserved cognitive abilities, the bits of the brain that are still working well, and we will use that information to work out how to best interact with that individual and their carer,” she said.

While not mandatory, carers will be encouraged to participate in the exercise as part of the approach.

A/Prof Close said that reducing the rate of falls in people with dementia would not only decrease early admission to residential aged care but also reduce the overall burden felt by carers.

Benefits of animal robots

Professor Wendy Moyle with robotic seal, Paro
Professor Wendy Moyle and Wesley Mission Brisbane’s Sinnamon Village resident Nancy Greenlees with robotic seal, Paro

At Griffith University’s Centre for Health Practice Innovation, Professor Wendy Moyle received $1.1 million to continue her research into the effects of robotic animals in people with dementia.

The cluster randomised controlled trial will assess the impact of the therapeutic robots on engagement, mood states, agitation and antipsychotic drug use in aged care residents.

The statistical evidence collected in the evaluation will be used to examine the cost effectiveness of the robotic animals versus the cost of drug treatments.

In the competitive funding round, NHMRC received over 5,000 applications with 19 per cent securing funding.

Other projects with committed funding include:

  • Monash University researchers will lead a $1.2 million project to investigate whether a daily low-dose of aspirin can reduce fracture risk in the elderly.
  • Older people at risk of depression will be the focus of a University of Sydney study testing the use of novel pharmacotherapies.
  • A $5 million project led by the University of Melbourne will study the use of cholesterol lowering medications for reducing events in the elderly.
  • A three-year project at the University of Wollongong will examine the relationship between vitamin B12 and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
  • The University of Queensland received over $820 000 to study the regulation of amyloid protein in Alzheimer’s disease.

Visit the National Health and Medical Council for the full list of grant recipients.

Tags: dementia, falls, nhmrc, research, robots,

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