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Theodore D. Cosco awarded funds to improve mental health amongst older adults

November 30, 2020

SFU’s Department of Gerontology Assistant Professor Theodore D. Cosco has been awarded  funds to help advance his research and improve the lives of aging adults.

Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gerontology professor Theodore D. Cosco has always had an interest in the process of aging. Born in Whitehorse, Yukon, Cosco grew up having close relationships with his grandparents, leading him to take on a volunteer position in a long-term care facility at age 12. As an undergraduate, Cosco spent a year as a Research Intern at CapitalCare, a large continuing care organization, as well as working with Roger Dixon at the Victoria Longitudinal Study, solidifying his research interests in the field. Cosco completed his Ph.D at the University of Cambridge and Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford,  where he used large-scale longitudinal studies of aging to study healthy aging trajectories across the life course, and what factors lead some older adults to remain happy and healthy. Throughout Cosco’s academic career–both as a student and now professor–his commitment to improving the lives of aging adults has been at the forefront of his research.

Since becoming Assistant Professor in SFU’s Department of Gerontology in 2019, Cosco has been awarded over $1 million in funding–from various organizations–as Principal Investigator to advance his research, identifying ways to foster better mental health amongst older adults. Using a variety of methods, ranging from focus groups with older adults to machine learning data analysis techniques, he aims to take a stakeholder-informed approach to develop innovative strategies to improve the lives of older adults.  His work has generated considerable attention, this year he has received the New Investigator Award from Canadian Association on Gerontology, the Scholar Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR), as well being awarded funds as Principal Investigator from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and AGE-WELL Network Centres of Excellence.  

These funds will help Cosco and his research team develop and implement strategies for fostering better mental health and empowering older adults. Findings from the data driven components of his projects will inform prospective interventions and the community-engaged components will inform the direction of these analyses. By engaging older adults throughout the research process, Cosco aims to increase the real-world impact his research will have, by aligning the perspectives and priorities of older adults with the research aims and objectives of his projects. Using these approaches, Cosco’s projects will hopefully lead to improvements in mental health, greater social connectedness and an expansion of not only the quantity of life, but of the quality of those additional years.

Particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation and loneliness are increasingly important challenges faced by older adults. Through Cosco’s research he will aim to not only address broader mental health issues, but also challenges those specific to decreasing social connectedness in the context of the pandemic. The negative implications of poor mental health are common and destructive, affecting one in five older adults; Cosco’s aims to increase older adults’ quality of life through his research.