Mapping the musical brain in dementia

Music is an important part of life for individuals with dementia and their loved ones. Numerous clinical studies have detailed music’s positive effects on quality of life in dementia care, however, much is still unknown about how music is processed in the brain, and how the brain adapts to neurodegeneration in dementia to maintain a connection to music. This is an important unanswered question as many assessment tools do not allow us to look at brain activity with persons with dementia in a way that is enjoyable and accessible to the individual. This project will record brain data during music listening and analyze the resulting brain network data for age- and diagnosis-related patterns. Music helps stimulate memories and promotes social interaction with loved ones, making it a beneficial addition to the lives of individuals with dementia. However, much still needs to be discovered about how and why music works. This study will provide information that can help improve access to music-based therapies for individuals with dementia in BC and will give researchers a greater understanding of brain adaptation in dementia.

Multisensory integration in aging and Alzheimer’s disease

As people age, their senses become less sharp. Healthy older adults can combine information from different senses, such as hearing and vision, to make up for this. Alzheimer’s disease attacks the areas of the brain that combine sensory information. Because of this, Alzheimer’s disease patients may lose the ability to compensate for reduced sensation. This could explain why Alzheimer’s disease patients have a much larger risk of serious falls.

For my project, I will study the brain activity involved in combining information across different senses. I will record brain activity from healthy young adults, healthy older adults, and Alzheimer’s disease patients. The participants will perform a task requiring them to quickly and accurately combine visual and auditory information. I will compare recordings from the different groups to see how aging and Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain activity.

The information I learn from my project will inform approaches to treatment and accommodation. My ultimate goal is to help people live fuller, more independent lives as long as possible.

Developing a Research Agenda to Address Stigma of Dementia in Rural Communities in Interior British Columbia

Stigma of dementia is one of the greatest barriers for people living with dementia and their care partners. It can lead to poor mental health, social isolation, and a reduced quality of life. Currently, there is a paucity of research on stigma of dementia within a rural context. Rural communities often face unique challenges to accessing dementia information compounded by limited finances, transportation, and geography. However, documenting challenges alone does not improve stigma of dementia. Addressing stigma requires rural collaboration and ingenuity at the individual, community, and policy levels.

This project’s purpose is to support collaboration between researchers and research users to develop a research agenda with identifiable research questions, action items, and deliverables. We will plan a knowledge exchange workshop with a specific focus on developing a research agenda to reduce rural stigma of dementia in Interior British Columbia. Our outcomes will include a research advisory team, a knowledge exchange workshop, and a collaborative research agenda with specific research questions and strategic recommendations to reduce stigma of dementia in rural communities in Interior BC.

Dementia Friendly Communities: Bringing to the Fore the Perspectives and Needs of People with Dementia Who Live Alone

The concept of Dementia Friendly Communities (DFCs) is becoming popular worldwide, as communities, organizations, and policy makers work to make our society a place where people living with dementia can live in comfort, strive for wellbeing, and feel connected to others. However, people with dementia who live alone have not really been included in conversations about and planning for DFCs. This is a significant gap, especially since people with dementia who live alone are a growing group of people. This project aims to address this gap, and to include people with dementia who live alone in co-designing an Action Plan that will lay the groundwork for future planning of DFCs, that takes into account their voices and perspectives. This work will involve an Action Group (AG) of people with dementia who live alone in different communities across BC. 8-10 people will join the AG, and will participate in 5 online co-design workshops to develop an Action Plan. The co-design workshops will be led by a team of designers from the Health Design Lab at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. The Health Design team will work in partnership with the project team and AG to co-design the Action Plan, and plan next steps for ongoing work.

Exercise for Healthy Aging: Mobilizing Knowledge with Users and Clinicians in BC

The number of adults over the age of 65 is expected to double in the next 20 years. Maintaining both cognitive function (i.e., thinking abilities) and mobility (i.e., the ability to move) are vital to functional independence and quality of life. Exercise can improve cognitive function and mobility in older adults.

However, many older adults are inactive. Key barriers to exercise include: 1) lack of motivation; 2) medical conditions, such as arthritis; and 3) lack of knowledge on how to exercise safely and effectively. To address these barriers, we will: i) disseminate the latest evidence on the benefits of exercise for cognitive function and mobility via a public forum; ii) deliver interactive workshops during which older adults (and caregivers) will learn how to exercise safely, how to individualize exercises, how to progress exercises, how to use popular wearables (e.g., Fitbit), and strategies to achieve a balanced 24-hour activity cycle for overall health; and iii) develop online resources capturing the content of the interactive workshops.

The intent of the public forum, workshops, and online resources is to motivate and enable older adults to uptake exercise, and thereby contribute to the global agenda of healthy aging.