Professor gets Innovation Award for senior care research

By Costa Maragos Posted: April 8, 2016 11:00 a.m.

l-r) Dr. David Malloy, Vice-President (Research) U of R with Dr. Shanthi Johnson, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Ken Loeppky, VP & COO, Innovation Place.
l-r) Dr. David Malloy, Vice-President (Research) U of R with Dr. Shanthi Johnson, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Ken Loeppky, VP & COO, Innovation Place. Photo courtesy of Regina Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Shanthi Johnson, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, is the recipient of the 2016 Award of Innovation.

The award is sponsored by Innovation Place and is given each year as part of the Regina Chamber of Commerce’s Paragon Awards, which celebrate the city’s most outstanding businesses. The Innovation award, which includes a $2,500 prize, recognizes original research that has the potential to create substantive societal benefits.
Johnson, in collaboration with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR), launched the project called “Saskatchewan Advantage: Improving Functional Capacity and Preventing Falls Among Rural and Urban Seniors.”

The research is a collaboration project between the Health Region, Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Saskatchewan Population Health Evaluation Research Unit at the U of R, and the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Western University. The project coordinator is Sharianne Caffet, a U of R graduate in social work.

The project delivered an exercise program for seniors who live on their own through the Therapies Department within Home Care at RQHR.

“I am greatly honoured to be receiving this award on behalf of our team,” says Johnson. “The University of Regina strategic plan’s theme is ‘Together We Are Stronger.’ This partnership project is an excellent example of this. To the whole RQHR-UR project team, I dedicate this award.”

The research is making a big difference in peoples’ lives.  Some participants improved to the extent that they did not require home care services anymore. The Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region nominated Johnson for the award.
The Health Region notes that home and community-based care is considered one of the fastest growing sectors with over one-million service users in Canada. In its awards submission, the region notes that “falls, poor balance, and the fear of falling can be devastating to older adults, and are a leading cause of loss of independence, morbidity and mortality.”

Overwhelming positive response from participants

Johnson was inspired by a study she was a part of in Ontario which demonstrated that performing simple, in-home exercises can improve physical function associated with reducing falls. Fewer falls mean a higher quality of life for seniors, in addition to saving the health care system money.

In Saskatchewan, the research so far has been overwhelmingly positive from the participants.

As noted in the awards submission, “one man expressed his shock and gratitude that someone cares enough about me to think I can get better.”

In another case, an Aboriginal Elder, a woman from Regina, was so afraid of falling that she almost never left her home. Since performing the exercises, the same woman “went on to organize and host potluck dinners, mentor at a local school and develop a program for older school children to walk home young, vulnerable children in a core neighbourhood.”

The Director of Home Care, Clinical Support and Palliative Care Services at RQHR, Tricia Engle says “I can attest to the fact that this project has already had a significant impact on home care delivery, and how care is provided from a preventative and population health perspective.”  

Innovation Place says “the socioeconomic impact of this research, in terms of improved quality of life and reducing costs to the health care system, will be significant.”

Says Johnson; “This partnership project is aimed at improving or maintaining the health of seniors and enabling them to age in place by delivering a simple, progressive, and functional exercise program to the homes of seniors.”

Johnson is in charge of the Falls Prevention Research Laboratory at the U of R which is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.

Johnson, along with Dr. Peter Leavitt were named 2014-15 Fulbright Scholars, a tremendous honour.