Older age

Older adults are defined as adults over the age of 65 years (WHO) and it is anticipated that this population will increase by 49% in the next twenty years with the over 85 age group expected to triple. Everyone ages differently, some people will develop long-term conditions and frailty but many will remain fit and active well into older age. The Plymouth Institute of Health and Care Research (PIHR) focuses on prevention (such as falls and pain management), early intervention (by modifying risk factors for dementia), using ‘digital’ to help people remain active and connected to family and community, and helping people – whatever their situation – live as well as possible (e.g. through delivery of personalised and integrated support).

Objectives

Our activities are focused on the following areas:

  • To develop high quality interdisciplinary research with strong methodological and theoretical foundation which informs policy and practice.
  • To develop international research with partnerships across the UK, Europe, the US and beyond working towards creating sustainable health and social care systems to support positive ageing into the next decades.
  • To work alongside older adults to identify areas important to them or exploring issues identified by them.
  • To provide strong evidence based education in the field of ageing across all programmes from undergraduate through to postgraduate.
Dementia

The D-PACT programme (Byng, Oh) is a five-year project, funded by a National Institute for Health and Care 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.

Within the Dietetics, Human Nutrition and Health group, Louise Mole (nee Wilkinson) has been researching how to meet the nutritional needs of people living in their own homes with dementia. Read more about her research

The Dental Pain and Dementia in Care Homes project, is a collaboration between PIHR researchers (Schofield, McColl, Witton, Thomas) and researchers at Cornell University, Hong Kong Polytechnique and the University of Western Australia involving dentists in the UK, USA and Australia. This internally funded project has already resulted in significant changes in dental care within local care homes and the setting-up of a Care Home Special Interest Group to influence care home research going forward.

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)
  • Movecare, a Horizon 2020 project supporting independent living through the use of robotic companions
  • 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 involved physiotherapy students, collaborating with Age UK, to offer 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 (Liz Candy, Lisa Bunn). The evaluation of the project, incorporates the perspectives of participants who both received the functional fitness assessments (older people) and those who conducted them (student physiotherapists). Read the report.  

The Dietetics, Human Nutrition and Health group leads on a number of projects relating to nutrition and ageing. The group is interested in learning how nutrition influences ageing, how optimal nutrition can be maintained during older age and how nutritional deficiencies that occur can be best treated. The group has also been leading on a specific project to develop a Covid-19 Recovery Knowledge Hub which provides nutrition support and guidance for patients, carers and professionals with recovery from Covid-19. As part of the hub the group also ran a series of free talks with invited speakers.   

Kerryn Husk, in the Community and Primary Care Research group has been leading on a realist review and evaluation of social prescribing at the time of Covid. He is working alongside the cultural sector to see how social prescribing can improve older people's wellbeing at a time when what the sector can offer them is restricted by the pandemic. 

Research in care homes

PIHR researchers are undertaking a number of studies which support care home residents to live active and fulfilling lives. Much of the Centre for Health Technology’s work involves supporting older people living in care homes as well as those in the community (see also Digital health section above). This includes the ESRC-funded Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD) project with the University of Stirling, which is, for example exploring the use of digital technology and VR sets to help residents exercise and remain connected with their family and community.

Dr Susie Pearce is currently leading on two projects focusing specifically on care homes in the Torbay and South Devon area, researching the implementation of the Enhanced Health in Care Homes (EHCH) framework and the development of a research culture within care homes. Read more information about these projects.