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Concordia researchers receive more than $1 million for interdisciplinary explorations on aging

Support from the Fonds de recherche du Québec goes toward studies on sleep, memory and creative community engagement
August 1, 2019
Christophe Guy: “These projects offer next-generation solutions to the many problems faced by our aging population.”
Christophe Guy: “These projects offer next-generation solutions to the many problems faced by our aging population.”

Members of Concordia’s engAGE: Centre for Research on Aging will be able to advance their work thanks to more than $1 million from the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ).

“These grants are further recognition that Concordia continues to distinguish itself in health research,” says Christophe Guy, vice-president of research and graduate studies. “New breakthroughs in health care for our aging population depend on the kinds of interdisciplinary projects undertaken here.”

Two of the three Concordia-led projects are based in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the third is in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

The researchers were chosen as part of the 2019-20 call for proposals by the Platform of Funding Programs for Intersectoral Research on Aging. Proposals were selected based on scientific excellence and the recommendations from an international peer committee, as well as the assessment criteria specified in the call.

Meet me at the mall: Engaging older adults in living labs for well-being

An associate professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, Janis Timm-Bottos will receive $844,774 to create a living lab project that connects Concordia students and researchers with Montreal’s community of older adults.

The living lab, located in a mall storefront, will be a community space that facilitates the co-creation, design, production and dissemination of university-community research. Through music, visual arts, literature and more, older people will work in collaborative partnership with researchers to explore science and express their needs and experiences.

“A media spa and art hive will anchor the engAGE Living Lab, with programming hosted by Concordia co-investigators based on the interests and needs of the older adults,” says Timm-Bottos.

“By promoting a culture of public science through the creative arts and technology, our goal is to exchange knowledge between older adults and university researchers across Quebec for the health and wellness benefits of all.”

Timm-Bottos says situating the labs in a familiar space like a mall is a way to create a comfortable atmosphere where older adults, especially those who may be experiencing isolation, feel supported and encouraged to interact with university researchers.

“We want to know what older adults think and what they already do to promote health and wellness with their friends, families and communities,” she says. “With this information, we can then work together to develop creative ways to share this with universities across Quebec and the public at large.”

The project features several co-investigators from all four Concordia faculties: Najmeh Khalili Mahani, Karen Li, Laurel Young, Meghan Joy, Linda Dyer and Shannon Hebblethwaite. Tracie Swim, program coordinator from the Extra Miles Senior Visiting Program, is also a practitioner co-investigator.

Collaborators include the Loyola College of Sustainability and Diversity and the Centre for Research and Expertise in Social Gerontology.

Gently boosting sleep in older people with sound

Emily Coffey is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and a member of the PERFORM Centre. She will receive $127,000 to examine the relationship between sleep and memory in aging populations.

When we sleep, our brains store memories. In order to do this, different regions of the brain must talk to each other via physiological oscillations. Coffey’s research will look at two frequency bands that are involved in memory processes — slow oscillations and spindles — and investigate how they work together to store memories.

Coffey’s research team will use sound to manipulate these oscillations in order to better understand how their interaction with each other affects memory. This has implications for new therapies for memory challenges that are adapted to the needs of specific individuals.

“Insufficient sleep is something that disproportionately affects older adults,” Coffey explains. “We want to restore the natural functions of sleep and give older adults a better quality of life.”

The project will also involve interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in neuroscience/psychology and computer engineering in order to innovate and improve the equipment that measures such brain processes, called electroencephalography.

Rocking bed: A bold solution for older adults with sleeping issues

Thanh Dang-Vu is a neurologist, associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and the Concordia University Research Chair in Sleep, Neuroimaging and Cognitive Health. He will receive $127,000 to study the impact of gentle rocking stimulation on the quality of sleep in older adults.

A study in Switzerland conducted by Aurore Alexandra Perrault, one of Dang-Vu’s postdoctoral students, found that a rocking sensation improved sleep in young adults. To explore the potential impact on older adults, his team is bringing together experts in engineering, neuroscience, sleep medicine, geotechnology and the social sciences.

“Reduced deep sleep and memory impairment are two of the most common signs of aging,” says Perrault.

“These have devastating effects on quality of life. There is a pressing need for a harm-free, long-term solution to sleep loss in old age.”

Experts will collaborate with the community’s older adults to create a rocking bed prototype that is easy to use in their own homes. If successful, Perrault says the project could be a therapeutic solution for age-related insomnia and improve our understanding of sleep brain rhythms and memory.

Concordia co-investigators include Shannon Hebblethwaite, director of engAGE, and Ramin Sedaghati from Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Mechanisms, trajectories and protective and vulnerability factors of Alzheimer’s disease

In addition to the Concordia-led projects funded by the FRQ, the Consortium for the Early Identification of Alzheimer’s Disease received $1,498,378. The consortium includes more than 90 Quebec researchers and was established in 2013 with funding from the Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé in partnership with Pfizer Canada. It is led out of the Université de Montréal and Université Laval and based at the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal.

Among the Consortium members are Thanh Dang-Vu and Natalie Phillips, a professor of psychology. As part of this project, Phillips, Dang-Vu and the other researchers will continue their work in exploring how to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier before significant neurological impairment occurs.

Drawing from an open-access bank of data from 350 older adults in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s, the cohort’s transdisciplinary researchers are able to address critical questions related to tracking the disease.

They will investigate tests related to early diagnosis, brain imaging techniques, biological indicators, health-related and lifestyle risk factors and the impact of psychosocial factors like bilingualism and education.

“Age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s affect 10 per cent of people over 65 and 30 per cent over 85,” says Phillips.

“Currently, there is no pharmacological treatment to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s. The focus is now on modifiable lifestyle factors. With the increase in life expectancy, the impacts on society are huge and the need for early diagnosis and treatment is critical.”

Find out more about research at Concordia and engAGE: the Centre for Research on Aging.


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