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Researchers counter healthy aging issues, isolation in cities with $6.8 million funding

February 03, 2023
Dawn Mackey

Researchers from SFU and UBC are working to counter “epidemic levels” of physical inactivity, loneliness and social isolation among older people in our cities. New funding totaling $6.8 million will help drive their efforts to promote and improve healthy aging.

SFU associate professor Dawn Mackey is co-leading the team with UBC professors Heather McKay, Joanie Sims Gould and Farinaz Havael, and researchers from SFU’s Aging and Population Health Lab and UBC’s Active Aging Research Team. The funding includes $3 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Healthy Cities Implementation Science (HCIS) team grants over the next six years, and funding from other sources including $1.2 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia.

The team’s work will focus on ‘implementation science’ to address health issues that affect older adults, and train and mentor new scientists in this field.

Implementation science is the scientific study of methods to promote the uptake of evidence-based interventions into routine practice, leading to the improved quality and effectiveness of health services and care.

“Loneliness and social isolation are associated with cognitive decline, more severe mental health symptoms, and even earlier death,” says Mackey, an associate professor in SFU’s biomedical physiology and kinesiology (BPK) department, and a scholar with Michael Smith Health Research British Columbia. Her team at SFU conducts research to promote mobility of older adults and address the cause, prevention and management of age-related mobility limitations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this vicious spiral. Being active, mobile and connected supports older adults to live healthier lives and interact more fully with their communities.”

The SFU team, which focuses on sex and gender equality in health promotion, will study how to adapt an effective health-promoting program called Choose to Move to serve more diverse populations of older adults. They’ll work with community-based seniors’ organizations and, on a more individual level, older men—a population group that Mackey says has not been reached or engaged to a great extent thus far—to adapt and implement Choose to Move to meet the needs and preferences of older men.

“What’s important in this work is that we co-design health-promoting programs that uniquely match the needs and preferences of diverse populations of older adults and the organizations that serve them, to ultimately help ensure active and socially-engaged seniors,” says Mackey.

“We want to help enable community-based seniors' services organizations to deliver health-promoting programs that are currently outside their capacity, and train the next generation of implementation science researchers.”