HSE Research Awards on Ageing

The HSE Health and Wellbeing Division has today, Wednesday 25th May, announced that funding of almost €500,000 has been awarded under the HSE Research Awards on Ageing to five projects which aim to support positive and healthy ageing in Ireland. Jointly funded by the HSE Health and Wellbeing Division and the Atlantic Philanthropies, the projects are framed around the themes of Participation, Health and Wellbeing, and Security. They were chosen following an All Island open call for proposals and best practice peer review to determine the successful projects.

The research awards are part the Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative - a joint national programme of research and health promotion led by the Department of Health with the HSE, The Atlantic Philanthropies and Age Friendly Ireland as key partners.

Dr. Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, said that “The findings from these five projects will build upon our existing knowledge on ageing, and will deliver innovative findings relevant to policy and practice on ageing in Ireland. The HSE looks forward to working with the research teams and leading experts in the field of ageing”.

Mary Sutton, Country Director, The Atlantic Philanthropies added, “Atlantic is delighted to support research that further develops our understanding of how to achieve positive outcomes for older people.”

Ranging from an assessment of the impact of austerity and policy change on older people to establishing how best to maintain social participation when people age, the projects are diverse but all aim to ultimately support the Irish population as we age.

In the project entitled “Financial Security in the Older Population in Ireland: Assessing the Impact of Austerity and Policy Change”, Dr Anne Nolan in the ESRI will set out to provide new evidence for policymakers and practitioners on the financial security of older people. The research team will use information from two nationally representative studies (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) and the Household Finance and Consumption Survey), focusing in particular on the period 2010–2015. They will look at the impact of austerity and policy changes on income, wealth, savings, debt, retirement preparedness, medical expenses and insurance cover.

“Ultimately we want to examine the impact of the recent economic crisis on the economic security of the older population and see how they compare with other cohorts of the population,” according to Dr Nolan.

Dr Gerry McKenna from Queens’ University of Belfast will examine “The impact of a tailored dietary intervention coupled with oral rehabilitation on the nutritional status of older patients”. According to Dr McKenna, “Diet is influenced by a variety of factors including socio-economic status, education and preferences. However, dental factors also play an important role. As natural teeth are lost, older adults develop eating habits based around softer, more manageable foods lacking in essential micronutrients and fibre, and simply replacing natural teeth for older patients does not necessarily alter food selection habits positively.“

The research team will develop and pilot test a habit-based tailored dietary intervention, in conjunction with oral rehabilitation, and will examine its impact on positive dietary habit-formation among partially dentate older adults. Engaging with the Department of Health, the HSE and the Chief Dental Officers in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the research team will add further evidence supporting a shift in the dental management of the expanding older population where dental services can provide holistic lifestyle advice.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny from Trinity College Dublin and her team will pose the question “What are the important determinants for maintaining social participation in the over 50s in Ireland? Evidence from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing”. The continuing social participation of older people through volunteering and informal caring for grandchildren and family members provides an important economic and social contribution to Irish society. This study will examine the transitions of Irish adults aged 50 and over into and out of social participation over a four year period. According to Professor Kenny, “Our study aims to inform development of strategies and policies to enhance participation of older people and their caregivers in society and to improve carer health and wellbeing.”

A second Trinity College Dublin project entitled “Frailty-related Outcomes and health Care Use (FOCUS): Supporting Older Adults to Age in Place in Ireland”, led by Prof Charles Normand, will set out to understand how frail older adults use the Irish public health and social care system, and determine how these diverse service use profiles impact on a range of physical health outcomes and social indicators over a five year period. According to Prof Normand, “Timely access to care services is fundamental to supporting healthy ageing for older people. This is particularly so for frail older people with depleted physical, social and psychological health resources for independent living”.

The fifth project, “Caregiver Stress and the Host-Microbe Interface: the Microbial Toll of a Challenging Societal Problem”, is being led by the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioural Science and the APC Microbiome Institute in University College Cork. Current population trends highlight the increased need for caregivers in society, which takes a physiological and psychological toll on carers.

According to the project’s lead researcher Dr Gerard Clarke, “Communication between the microbes in our gut and our brain is a two-way street. This has important implications for health and disease, even our mental wellbeing. We will look at the stressful impact of family dementia caregiving on the diversity and stability of the gut microbes and how that relates to mood and cognitive performance”. The team are also proposing that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) might act to counteract the consequences of caregiving stress on gut microbiota.

Dr Breda Smyth, Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Lead on the HSE Research Awards on Ageing, confirmed that a second round of funding will be announced this summer. “The HSE is committed to supporting research that provides evidence on the determinants of health, wellbeing and quality of life of people as they age. It will be vital for the HSE, partner organisations and key policy makers to translate the findings from these projects into real policy change and practice on ageing in Ireland”.

Further details on the research awards are available at http://www.hse.ie/eng/about/Who/healthwellbeing/ageingawards/

 

Last updated on: 25 / 05 / 2016