Epidemiologist Associate Professor Maria Inacio is motivated to fill the gap in aged care research, she tells Sandy Cheu.

Maria Inacio, director of the Registry of Senior Australians, is determined to contribute to the aged care sector by undertaking research that makes a difference. Inacio joined ROSA in 2017 with a strong interest in working on a registry that monitors aged care recipients.

ROSA was established by the Healthy Ageing Research Consortium in 2017 as the Registry of Older South Australians. It monitors the health, service utilisation, medication use, mortality, and other outcomes of people receiving aged care services.

Inacio has a background in population surveillance and older populations, but not always those in the aged care sector.

“I’ve worked with vulnerable older populations for a long time, but it wasn’t until I came into ROSA that I developed a wider interest in working with this population,” Inacio tells Australian Ageing Agenda. “It’s such a durable, wide and complex population that’s facing such incredible challenges.

“I feel like I’ve broadened the scope of work that I’ve been doing since I’ve come to ROSA and became much more involved in a lot of different aspects of the care of older people than I had in the past,” says Inacio,  Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of South Australia.

Prior to ROSA, Inacio studied the effects of obesity on people later in life and on the health of older people who have had hip fractures, she says. At ROSA, her role is focused on the strategic direction, priorities and focus of the registry, and managing staff members.

“My work these days is largely administrative, and I don’t get to play with the code and the data as much as I wish I could, but it is very much on the strategic side,” Inacio says. “My typical day involves a lot of meetings, mentoring sessions with the people in my team and a lot of conversations with people outside my team,” she says.

It also involves sharing ROSA’s work and writing grants, manuscripts and reports. “A big part of what I do is communicate the work that ROSA is doing and have conversations with people and the aged care providers interested in what we do,” she says.

Associate Professor Maria Inacio

Some recent work at ROSA has been on dementia and cognitive decline. It found that the prevalence of dementia among new aged care residents was decreasing.

“So that’s not saying the residents themselves have less dementia diagnosis, but it is in the way down,” Inacio says.

Other research found that spending time in respite care reduced the overall number of days older people later spent in residential aged care.

“The reassuring finding is that if you go into care for a couple of weeks and you’re giving your carer a break, it might prolong how long you spend in your own home.”

Research on antipsychotic use found that in the months before people enter aged care, there is a slight increase in the use of antipsychotics overall and especially among those  with dementia, Inacio says.

“However, once they enter, the use goes up quite significantly and then it never actually tapers off,” she says.

ROSA is developing a quality and safety indicator monitoring system that allows providers to understand their performance in different areas, such as falls and fractures and antipsychotic use. It will be implemented later in the year, Inacio says.

Inacio enjoys her role because she can contribute to finding new information for aged care, she says. “It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to contribute information and new evidence in a sector that is being heavily scrutinised and facing challenges and difficulties,” she says.

“It’s been an amazing experience because you can see there is a massive gap in these areas. And with the work ROSA is doing, we can start filling in some of those blanks and provide a little bit of information,” she says.

Inacio says she is passionate about working in the aged care sector because the research can change the lives of residents.

“It is extremely rewarding to be working in the sector because most of the time when you work in research, it takes 20 years to see some of the work you’re doing implemented into practice and clinical changes,” she says.

“The residents and individuals that are receiving care now will benefit from the findings of the work that we’re doing.”

Inacio says it was a “wonderful surprise” that ROSA won the best application of business intelligence to leverage value from big data at the ITAC 2020 Conference Awards in March.

It recognised ROSA’s data platform that integrates big data from the health and aged care sectors to provide better outcomes for aged care residents.

“We were so thrilled, it was so exciting,” she says.

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