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For the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has supported better health and health care for Canadians. As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, CIHR enables the creation of evidence-based knowledge and its transformation into improved treatments, prevention and diagnoses, new products and services, and a stronger, patient-oriented health-care system. Composed of 13 internationally recognized Institutes, CIHR supports more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada invested approximately $122 million in 2009–10 in aging-related research.
- According to the most recent projections, the number of seniors in Canada could begin surpassing the number of children under the age of 15 as early as 2015.1
- Chronic pain affects more than 25% of seniors living in households and close to 40% in institutions and can have a profound impact on quality of life.2
- Although Canada has one of the youngest populations among the G8 countries, the size of our post-war baby boom should contribute to more rapid aging of our population than in other industrialized countries.3
- Dr. Alois Alzheimer identified the disease that bears his name in 1906 and described its two hallmarks: tiny dense deposits called plaques that become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels and "tangles" that interfere with vital processes and eventually choke off living cells.4
- Canada News Centre: Twelfth Meeting of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Minister Responsible for Seniors, July 7, 2010
- Statistics Canada: The Daily, Study: Chronic Pain in Canadian Seniors
- Statistics Canada: Canada Year Book (Seniors), 2009
- Alzheimer Society: Alzheimer's Disease, What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
You can teach an old brain new tricks
It has long been thought that as people age, their brainpower diminishes. However, research by Dr. Cheryl Grady of Toronto's Baycrest Hospital indicates that the older brain is capable of learning new tricks. "We have found evidence that during cognitive tests older adults often have more activity in some areas of the brain than young adults do," says Dr. Grady. Essentially, seniors switch on circuits that they weren't using to compensate for old circuits that aren't up to the task. Dr. Grady's findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2010.
Frailty scale helps MDs see patient's whole picture
When health-care providers focus on a particular condition and how to treat it, an older patient's overall level of fitness and frailty can sometimes get overlooked. To help doctors see the "whole picture," Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, Director of the Geriatric Medicine Research Unit at Dalhousie University, developed the Nine-Point Clinical Frailty Scale, which ranks patients from "Very Fit" to "Terminally Ill." The scale is now in use at 20 sites in Canada and the United States, including the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. "It helps doctors understand the overall level of fitness and frailty of the people they care for," says Dr. Rockwood. "When they understand that, a lot of things make more sense to them – especially whether the patient is likely to benefit from a particular intervention or procedure."
Death at home not always the best option
The notion that the best death that a chronically ill person can have is at home is an admirable one, but it may not be workable for some families. A study led by Dr. Kelli Stajduhar of the University of Victoria found that many caregivers can end up needing health-care services themselves because of the onerous responsibilities involved in nursing a terminally ill patient. They may experience reduced quality of life, depression and other health problems as a result of caregiving. "We're beginning to see a shift," says Dr. Stajduhar. "Before, we used to say dying at home was the gold standard and families all want to do this. Now we're seeing an awareness that dying at home is a great thing for patients and family members who choose that option, but that in some cases this is not going to work for some people."
Learning to tango reduces risk of falling, lifts moods
Research by McGill University's Dr. Patricia McKinley indicates seniors can get a better sense of physical and mental balance by taking up the tango. An earlier study found seniors who took tango lessons dramatically reduced their risk of having a severe fall. More recent work by members of her lab shows that tango lessons, meditation or circuit training all helped reduce anxiety, stress and depression among persons over 50 who declared themselves depressed, compared to a control group. However, only the tango dancers also showed improvement in sleep and fatigue. A subsequent study will follow for persons who have a diagnosis of clinical depression.
Researchers' findings show promise against Alzheimer protein
University of Alberta researchers have shown that beta amyloid, a protein associated with dementia, may be susceptible to a compound developed to prevent destruction of insulin-producing cells in diabetes. Since making their initial findings in rodents, Drs. Jack Jhamandas and David Westaway and their research teams have performed electrophysiological and cell culture studies to test the compound's ability to overcome beta amyloid cell destruction in human neurons and found that "apparently it does," says Dr. Jhamandas. The demonstration of these findings in human brain tissue is important because rodents, which are usually used to study neurodegeneration, do not develop Alzheimer's disease. The results are to be published in the American Journal of Pathology.
For More Information
Adults over 65 years constitute the fastest growing age group in Canada. By the year 2026, one out of every four Canadians will be considered a 'senior', surpassing the number of children under the age of 15 in this country. The CIHR Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) supports research in the field of aging to improve the health and quality of life of older Canadians by understanding and addressing or preventing the consequences of a wide range of factors associated with aging. To learn more about these priorities and other CIHR-IA activities, please visit the Institute's website.
For more information, go to ARCHIVED - Your Health Research Dollars at Work.