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Press Release

Press release

Dementia patients and carers to benefit from €4.5 million research investment

4 February 2016

The Health Research Board and The Atlantic Philanthropies are today announcing the research arm of Ireland’s first National Dementia Strategy. Seven new research projects have been funded to support the implementation of the strategy.

The establishment of a new National Centre for Social Research on Dementia and a suite of applied projects, exploring topics such as the use of home computer tablets for care management, dementia-friendly hospital design and the links between stroke and dementia, will start this year as a result of significant investment from the HRB and The Atlantic Philanthropies.

'The awards are part of a very deliberate and focused plan to improve dementia care', says Graham Love, the Chief Executive of the Health Research Board.

'They are aligned with the National Dementia Strategy and they all focus on improving quality of life for people living with dementia and those caring for them. From making our hospitals more friendly for dementia patients, or using technology to remotely track health markers like patient blood pressure and weight, each of these new projects will make a very real and tangible impact on people's lives and improve how we deliver their healthcare services'.

Mary Sutton, Country Director for The Atlantic Philanthropies added that,

‘This is part of a broader investment by Atlantic in the development of dementia health and social care. With the HRB, we want to see the dementia landscape transformed through an infusion of new leadership in thought and practice, building research collaborations between academia and the wider practice and policy community both here in Ireland and also internationally’.

A cornerstone of this integrated approach will be to establish a HRB Research Leader position in Dementia care. Professor Eamon O'Shea from NUI Galway has been selected to fill this role. He is a world-renowned expert on dementia and his Research Leader Award (RLA) represents a 5-year investment in dementia research between the HRB, NUI Galway and The Atlantic Philanthropies. The post will be expected to influence and inform national policy and practice and strengthen an evidence-informed approach to healthcare delivery.

According to Professor O'Shea,

'Too often people use the word 'burden' when talking about dementia. My vision is to champion a research programme and strategy that focuses on choice, capabilities, connectivity and personhood for people with dementia. This investment by the Health Research Board and The Atlantic Philanthropies will enable us to create a National Centre for Social Research on Dementia where the research focuses on the person living with the dementia and their needs, not just their symptoms.

Our aim is to do research that looks at the best ways to provide care for people living with dementia that are based on choice rather than just relying on the traditional residential care model. We want to understand how the person connects with others during the care process, and the role of family carers in understanding and delivering care. Our interest is in personalised, non-pharmacological approaches to care such as physical exercise and the beneficial effects of non-pharmacological interventions. Ultimately it is about putting the person with dementia at the centre of decision-making at all times.

We have been very deliberate in our proposals. We are committed to working in partnership with key stakeholders in dementia-related activity and care in Ireland such as the Health Service Executive, the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland, and Genio. We will examine social, economic, civic, cultural and legal aspects of dementia so that we can enhance and enrich the lives of those with the condition'.

The new funding will support: 

1. A HRB Research Leader in Dementia to influence and inform national policy and practice and strengthen an evidence-informed approach to healthcare delivery (Award value: €1.6m over five years).

2. A new HRB Interdisciplinary Capacity Enhancement (ICE) Award (Award value: €572,000, over three years) to support three post-doctoral positions to examine the links between stroke and dementia.

3. Five new Applied Research Projects in Dementia (Award value €1.5m, with each lasting between two and three years). See summaries below for more detail.

4. A new dementia research and practice knowledge exchange network (Award value: €150,000 over two years). This will support an independent, multi-disciplinary network of dementia related researchers, practitioners, patients, families and other stakeholders, to enhance exchange of information and views among members, improve dissemination and awareness of Irish dementia and related research, enhance exchange and public and patient involvement in dementia research and consolidate links and cooperation between all who have an interest in dementia or research.

5. Four PhD Scholarship positions supported by the HRB SPHeRE programme. This 'first-of-its-kind' in Ireland training programme was established by the HRB to develop a pool of researchers with the specialist skills to conduct population health and health services research. The four scholarships will have a special emphasis on dementia-related topics.

Lay summaries of each of the main research awards (numbered 1-3 above) are outlined below.

For further information, please contact Brian Cummins, Communications Officer, HRB, t 085 8879313, e bcummins(at)hrb.ie  

Research projects - lay summaries

1. Professor Eamon O'Shea, NUI Galway, HRB Research Leader Award. (€1.6 million over five years, one Professorial post, two post-docs, three PhD researchers). This award will provide the research framework to support the implementation of the National Dementia Strategy. The research programme will investigate optimal, person-centred pathways to care and placement for people on the margins of home care and residential care. It will examine the economic, social and emotional costs of caring for people with dementia, with particular emphasis non-pharmacological approaches to care. It includes exploring the development and piloting of a randomised control trial investigating the impact of exercise on quality of life for people with dementia in care settings. The investment will promote and build capacity in economic and social research on dementia, develop the next generation of research leaders in the area, and engage directly with health policy makers and practitioners. It encompass a partnership approach amongst all stakeholder groups from people with dementia to researchers, healthcare providers and health policy makers with a view to enhancing and enriching the lives of people with dementia. The work will be hosted at the University’s Institute for Lifecourse and Society and will complement NUI Galway’s existing investment in social gerontology and health economics.  

2. HRB ICE Award - Professor Anne Hickey, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. The StrokeCog study: modelling and modifying the consequences of stroke-related cognitive impairment through intervention. (€572,000, over three years) Stroke is the second most common cause of death worldwide and a significant contributor to adult disability. The ICE award will examine the links between stroke and dementia. This is an under-researched topic internationally, but it is a critical area to better understand as one in ten people develop dementia after first stroke and more than one in three people who have a recurrent stroke go on to develop dementia. Vascular dementia accounts for approximately one-third of all dementia types. Better knowledge and understanding will play an important role in developing preventative healthcare strategies. Findings from this research programme will provide, for the first time in Ireland, critical data enabling service planners and providers to plan services addressing cognitive impairment post-stroke both in hospital and community. Programme deliverables will make an original contribution to national and international understanding of the implications and management of cognitive impairment after stroke.  

3. Applied Research Projects in Dementia  

3.1.  Professor Desmond O'Neill, Trinity College Dublin, Dementia Friendly Irish Hospitals: Opportunities, barriers, costs and solutions (€265,000 over two years). This project will examine key issues around the design of dementia friendly hospitals in Ireland in conjunction with TrinityHaus, Trinity College Dublin. Stage one will comprise of a literature review and international case studies. The physical hospital environment will be analysed using a spatial and physical design framework based around; Approach and arrival; Entering, exiting and circulation; key internal and external paces; and elements and systems (including materials, finishes, technology, artwork, etc.) The final output will be a Dementia Friendly Design Manual and key findings to underpin any future HSE guidelines. This will contain guidance around stakeholder engagement in participatory design processes and an Ireland specific dementia friendly hospital audit tool.  

3.2.  Dr Catherine Blake, University College Dublin, Connected HEalth Supporting home Stay with dementia (CHESS). (€330,000 over three years). A computer tablet with an android operating system will be loaded with software applications which allow wireless or plug-in connections to peripheral monitoring devices including electronic blood pressure and heart rate monitor, weighing scales, accelerometer for physical activity monitoring, and opportunities to tailor the assessments to individual patient needs. The remote monitoring will offer new insight into the day to day lives of people with dementia and their caregivers. A central patient portal will be accessible by the caregiver, hospital based consultant and GP surgery, facilitating a range of communication channels. A video application will enable video consultations with a hospital based consultant or GP surgery. The project has the potential to enable streamlined clinical management and offer systematic and individualised approaches to support family caregivers.  

3.3. Professor Dympna Casey, National University of Ireland Galway, A Comprehensive Resilience-building psychosocial Intervention (CREST) to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers. (€330,000 over two and a half years). The project will combine a number of separate interventions into one umbrella programme to improve the quality of life for patients. It will comprise four components to address 1) cognitive stimulation, 2) group physical activity, 3) dementia education and 4) assistive technologies to support personal control and retain skills. The project will finalise the CREST intervention and undertake a pilot evaluation that will lead to a subsequent randomised control trial.  

3.4. Dr Margaret Walshe, Trinity College Dublin, Validation of the Profile for Communication Abilities in Dementia (P-CAD). (€265,000 over two years). Communication difficulties are an inherent part of dementia causing frustration, anxiety and misunderstanding for the person with dementia, but also caregivers and family. Communicating successfully not only improves our quality of life but also preserves our sense of identity. Speech and language therapists (SLTs) work closely with people with dementia but have a restricted range of communication assessments that they can use to evaluate functional communication effectively. This project aims to refine and validate the Profiling Communication Ability in Dementia tool (P-CAD) that was developed in 2014 by Ms. Suzanna Dooley, a speech and language therapist working in the HSE. The tool will allow SLTs to profile the communication abilities of the person with dementia, determine what individual interventions will be effective and work with the family caregivers to improve communication.  The P-CAD will track changes in communication over time and therefore assist the SLT in identifying suitable communication supports as dementia progresses.   Phase one of the research will seek feedback from people with dementia, caregivers and health professionals, while phase two will trial the tool on 100 patients. The end result will be an assessment tool that will be available to SLTs to complement their work in this area.  Its availability should also inform care planning, encourage increased awareness of the SLT role and improve dementia care.  

3.5. Professor Gerard Fealy, University College Dublin, Towards resilience in family caregiving for people with dementia (€320,000 over three years). The aim of the study is to develop and promote resilience in family carers of people with dementia. The study is being conducted in partnership with Care Alliance Ireland and St Vincent's University Hospital and will consist of three distinct stages. Stage one will involve a review of literature on resilience in family caregiving and a national survey of family carers to investigate resilience. Stage two will see the development of an Enhancing Carers’ Resilience (EnCaRe) programme for family carers. The EnCaRe programme will be developed by a network group of family carers of people with dementia, people with early onset dementia, peer advocates drawn from carers' support organisations and members of the research team. In Stage three the EnCaRe programme will be evaluated for its suitability and sustainability as a model of family carer support in Ireland.

Ends.

The Health Research Board is the lead agency in Ireland supporting and funding health research. Our mission is to improve people’s health and to enhance healthcare delivery. We will lead and support excellent research, we will generate relevant knowledge and promote its applications in policy and practice. www.hrb.ie

About The Atlantic Philanthropies: The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. Atlantic is a limited life foundation that will complete grant-making in 2016. To learn more, please visit: www.atlanticphilanthropies.org.

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