2014 Scholars

Posted by on 2 January 2014

The cornerstone funding from the Selwyn Foundation plus additional grants from Family Trusts have enabled us to extend our grants to researchers in 2014. Specifically this had meant one extra Summer Student for the University of Auckland and one extra post graduate Scholar for Massey University and the University of Auckland. A brief summary of each research proposal is given below.

Bridget Burmester, Massey University

Understanding subjective memory complaints

Assessment and aetiology

BridgetBurmesterMany facets of memory function decline with age and many adults become concerned about perceived changes in their memory as they grow older. Subjective memory complaints such as trouble remembering someone’s name cause considerable distress for many as they grow older. They result in significant concern and are associated with lower levels of wellbeing and poorer quality of life.

In some cases they have been reported even more distressing than physical health concerns such as heart attacks.

Previous research has shown that such memory losses are associated with impairment in activities of daily living such as using the telephone, taking medication and managing financial affairs.

This research will focus on how to best measure subjective memory complaints and the development of the causes of the distress arising from subjective memory complaints.

Joanna Maree Macfarlane, Massey University

New Zealand Baby Boomers

Attitudes towards mental health help-seeking and preventative and therapeutic psychological measures

JoannaMareeThe first ‘baby boomers’ joined the official ranks of ‘elderly’ in 2011 and as the rest of this cohort enter this life stage it is expected that New Zealand’s mental health system will come under unprecedented strain. Is the mental health system ready for the specific needs of this group of ageing New Zealanders?

This research will explore the attitudes of those born between 1946 and 1964 towards mental health help-seeking and specifically preventative and therapeutic psychological measures.

It is currently unclear what this cohorts attitudes are to mental health help-seeking and whether health-seeking barriers exist for them.

To date no research has examined attitudinal differences within the cohort so it is envisaged that the findings of this research will help New Zealand’s mental health providers target this age group more effectively and ensure that appropriate interventions and care are available for this group.

John Brady, University of Otago

Consequences of a decline in retrograde transport in age-related denervation

Implications for sarcopenia

John BradyEveryone over 65 will experience progressive muscle loss and consequent frailty, a condition referred to as sarcopenia. The age-related declines in muscle strength and motor control associated with sarcopenia result in a massive loss in independence due to increased risk of fall injury and loss of mobility such as decreased ability to climb stairs, get out of bed, shopping and household chores. Though the precise cellular changes that lead to sarcopenia are not known one theory links age-related muscle wasting to age- related denervation.

Age related denervation is widely described in elderly muscles and has been shown to contribute to muscle fibre death and atrophy both of which result in an overall loss in lean muscle mass and strength.

Retrograde transport is the process by which nerve cells move important support substances from their periphery (in this case the neuromuscular junction) to the cell body (in this case in the spinal cord).

Leila Anne Pfaeffli, University of Auckland

Evaluation of a comprehensive mobile technology cardiac rehab intervention

LeilaAnnePFaeffliCoronary heart disease (CHD) remains a leading cause of death in New Zealand and particularly impacts older adults. Once a patient is diagnosed with CHD they are more likely to have recurring cardiac events that require further hospitalisation.

The Text4Heart study evaluates a new method to support older adults with CHD make lifestyle changes with the hope of preventing recurring cardiac events and help them live healthy lives for longer. Participants in the intervention group of the research will receive a personalized text message programme over 6 months and access to a supporting website.

Messages will contain information and strategies to help participants to stick to their prescribed medication regime, reminders to have a regular check up with their physician, and maintain healthy lifestyle changes including exercise, health eating, managing stress and stopping smoking.

Lily Yu-Li Chang, University of Auckland

Functional evidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the eye

Clinical Application

LilyYuLiChangAlzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia with progressive deterioration of cognitive and bodily function.

This study aims to improve the quality of life of AD sufferers by more effectively diagnosing the disease which is likely to improve treatment outcome and delay progression.

Although there is currently no curative treatment for AD, early diagnosis is still warranted as lifestyle changes, forward planning, and therapy aimed at symptomatic relief will optimise the quality of life of those with AD. Numerous research projects are seeking treatment.

Rashika Karunasinghe, University of Auckland

Hypoxic spreading depression in the Substantia Nigra

A comparison with the Hippocampus and implications for Vascular Parkinson’s

Rashika Karunasinghe This research is focused on a deep brain region named the Substantia Nigra. Compared with the rest of the brain the dopamine producing neurons of this nucleus progressively degenerate during normal ageing. This process accelerates during Parkinson’s disease, a disorder characterized by the untimely and relatively selective loss of these neurons, with resulting deficits in patients’ mobility. Early results of this research indicate that the dopamine producing neurons of the Substantia Nigra are able to tolerate acute ischemic for AD and the success of any treatments developed will depend on timely diagnosis of the disease and identifying those at risk of developing the disease.

Because AD diagnosis through an eye examination is simple, cheaper and more accessible than current methods, involving MRI and PET scans, it will reduce costs and make early diagnosis available to all at risk of AD. The social stigma for AD has reduced significantly, and there are now support groups such as Alzheimer’s New Zealand, that provide education and assistance to

patients and their families. This research will further increase awareness of AD to the public and hopefully the next step in AD management will expand beyond palliative therapy and take a more active role in slowing or preventing the disease.

You can also help by

  • Spreading the word about what we do / share this newsletter
  • Donating your time to the Friends Supporters to help with fundraising and committee work
  • Encouraging your children and grandchildren to invest in their futures by donating time and money (a baby girl born today has a 1 in 3 chance of living to 100 , a boy 1 in 4 and is likely to be fitter and healthier–think about the implications of that)
  • Consider a bequest