University of Regina dementia-focused research project receives a $3 million federal grant

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: November 21, 2019 9:55 a.m.

Research team, Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Tom McIntosh, and Dr. Nuelle Novik, receive a $3 million federal grant to investigate ways to improve the lives of older adults living with dementia in small towns and rural communities in Saskatchewan.
Research team, Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Dr. Tom McIntosh, and Dr. Nuelle Novik, receive a $3 million federal grant to investigate ways to improve the lives of older adults living with dementia in small towns and rural communities in Saskatchewan. Photo: U of R Photography

A University of Regina research team has received a $3 million grant from Employment and Social Development Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. The money will fund a five-year research project to improve the lives of older adults living with dementia in small cities and rural communities in Saskatchewan.

The Interventions to Enhance Social Inclusion of Older Adults with Dementia in Saskatchewan project is being led by Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, a professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina’s  Prince Albert Campus. The team also includes Dr. Tom McIntosh, professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies, and Dr. Nuelle Novik, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work. The project is being conducted through the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU), a research centre based at both the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan.

Since 1999, SPHERU has established itself as a leader in cutting-edge population health research that looks at the what and the why of health inequities – as well as how to address these inequities and take action.

“Services and interventions for older adults with dementia tend to be concentrated in larger urban centres and those who live in smaller and rural communities have much fewer supports,” says Jeffery. “Saskatchewan, with its wide-spread rural population, is an ideal place to explore what interventions can best enhance the quality of lives of people with dementia that live in those smaller communities and rural areas.”

Limited finances, education, public transportation, and geographic distance can compound the unique barriers older adults face as they attempt to access dementia care in small cities or rural communities, says Jeffery.

“Approximately one third of Saskatchewan’s one million residents live in rural communities and more than 19,000 people are affected by dementia, with an estimated 60 per cent living in their own homes,” Jeffery says.

The research team will be collaborating with the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan, along with other provincial organizations, to examine individual, community, and organizational level supports and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people with dementia, as well as their care partners, through supporting greater social inclusion.

“The lack of dementia knowledge and awareness perpetuates stigma and stereotypes of people living with dementia and their care partners,” says Joanne Bracken, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan. “We know from research that after finding a cure, eliminating stigma is the next biggest concern for people with dementia. We believe this project has the potential to address this issue in a meaningful way.”

Jeffery says the team will focus on improving public awareness of the stigma and social isolation experienced by people with dementia, while also working to improve social inclusion.

The researchers will also look at increasing and improving the availability and appropriateness of family and community supports for people living with dementia and for their care partners.

Jeffery says some examples of interventions at the individual, community, and organizational levels can include:

  • Providing individuals living with dementia and their care partners an opportunity to participate in group activities that build social connections and improves physical fitness;
  • Supporting communities with a framework and tools to engage those living with dementia and their care partners to participate fully in community life; and,
  • Engaging businesses and organizations to adopt policies and practices that facilitate those living with dementia and their care partners to fully access their services.

 “The University appreciates the support that the Government of Canada is providing to this very important work which will have a direct impact on improving the lives of older adults living with dementia, not just in rural Saskatchewan, but in rural communities across Canada,” said Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Interim Vice-President (Research), University of Regina.

The New Horizons for Seniors Program is a federal grants and contributions program that supports projects that make a difference in the lives of seniors and their communities.

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