Older age

Ageing is among the most important known risk factors for frailty, dementia and multiple chronic illnesses. The population of people aged over 65 is projected to increase by 49 per cent by 2040 while the numbers of people aged over 85 (the group most likely to need health and care services) is projected to rise even more rapidly. 

Demographic ageing has resulted in increasing health service demand, particularly in hospitals where over two thirds of admissions are over 65 years old. However, there are concerns that hospitals may not always provide the right kind of care that older people need. Exploring alternative care pathways, Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) focuses on prevention (such as falls management), early intervention (by modifying risk factors for dementia), supporting people to live in the community (through e-Health interventions) and helping people to live as well as possible until they die.

Dementia

The D-PACT programme (Byng, Oh) is a five-year project, funded by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grant for Applied Research (PGfAR), that aims to develop and evaluate a system for dementia support based in general practice for people with dementia and their carers.

Banerjee is an international expert in quality of life in dementia, evaluation of new treatments and services and the interface between policy, research and practice. He led the development of the National Dementia Strategy and worked with the World Health Organisation to make dementia a global priority in its Global Action Plan. He recently secured a 4.7m grant from the ERSC and NIHR will explore definitively for the first time inequalities and inequities in dementia care and is the co-investigator (with Miranda) of RadioMe, a £2.7 million project using artificial intelligence to adapt and personalise live radio, with the aim of transforming the lives of people living alone with dementia.

Sherriff is Academic Partnership Lead for Dementia at the University and works widely in advocacy for dementia-friendly communities, having built up significant networks with people with dementia and their carers and families, volunteers, politicians, journalists, academics and health and social care professionals. Sheriff, Warren and Turner, as founder members of the Prime Ministers Dementia Challenge Group for Air Transport bring together people living with dementia, their caregivers, aircrew trainers, policy makers, and researchers. This has led to a growing international collaboration IDAir, which is a virtual group that focuses on improving the travel experiences of people living with dementia and their care givers globally through innovative projects, sharing best practice and research.

Digital health

Much of the Centre for Health Technology’s research brings together digital health and technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform the health and well-being of older people. Examples include:

  • the remote assessment and management of people with movement impairment and disability (Freeman, Marsden, Jones, Kent, Gunn, Demain, Logan)
  • AGE’IN, an international project in which the Plymouth team is evaluating assistive devices and robots designed to independent living (Palomino)
  • the use of autonomous telemedicine for cataract surgery follow-up (Meinert)
  • EPIC which, among other activities, considers how to make technology more accessible to all; including differences in IT literacy, sight challenges, age or hearing loss and innovations which address loneliness and isolation.

The Participation in Everyday Life Research Group has collaborated with the Centre for Health Technology on several projects, including the use of smart speakers in care homes (Jones, Warren, Fraser, Krizaj), intergenerational connectivity (Jones, Warren, Krizaj) and design to promote health and well-being.

Parkinson’s disease

The Applied Parkinson’s Research Group, led by Dr Camille Carroll, oversees the clinical trials and studies aimed at improving the lives of those with Parkinson’s through neuroprotective interventions and digital innovation for care (see Frontiers in Discovery Science for our research on the genetic aspects of Parkinson’s). This programme of research challenges the mainstream bio-medical approach to treating the illness and places as much control and influence over decisions on health and care in the hands of patients, care partners, and the community.

Innovations include Apps that provide remote monitoring of motor and non-motor symptoms, triggering support from care partners and information on self-management as well as supporting home-based care (Gorst, Carroll, King). The team are also developing a web-based portal to allow the matching of people with Parkinson’s to research opportunities (Mullin, Gorst). Carroll is also chief investigator on PD-STAT, a clinical trial using statins as a new treatment for Parkinson’s.

Led by Bunn and in collaboration with Carroll and Freeman, targeted rehabilitation for people with PD is also under-investigation, exploring superiority of dual task training approaches considerate of feasibility and impact (incorporating sophisticated laboratory based human motion analysis of sensorimotor control).

Healthy older ageing

A grass roots Institute funded project involving physiotherapy students, collaborating with Age UK, offers functional fitness assessments to older people in Devon. Personalised assessments and shared norm-referenced data empowered participants to realise their own physical fitness goals and independently pursue physical activity training opportunities in their community (Candy, Bunn).