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Rapid rise to international leader in the field of aging sciences, GERAS celebrates a three-year anniversary

As the Geriatric Education Research in Aging Sciences (GERAS) Centre celebrates three years of research and innovation in healthy aging, geriatrician and Executive Director, Dr. Alexandra Papaioannou and her team look back at the successes they have made along the way.

Specializing in research on healthy aging with a focus on frailty, falls, and fractures, and dementia and delirium, GERAS is quickly emerging as an international leader in the field of aging sciences research. Guided by a holistic approach to enhancing the lives of older adults, the Centre is aptly located at St. Peter’s Hospital, a complex continuing care hospital specializing in geras-apthe care of seniors and those with chronic illness. The Centre is an important part of the Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), and its affiliation with McMaster University further strengthens its outreach in the research community. Along with research, the Centre also advances inter-professional education and supports patients, their caregivers, and families through the development of educational health promotion strategies.

“Since Hamilton has a large growing population of older adults, research is essential to ensuring their health goals are met. Our objective is to help older adults maintain independence no matter what stage of the journey they are on,” says Dr. Papaioannou. Since the GERAS Centre opened in 2013, it has been recognized for numerous research studies and collaborated with local and international organizations. The team is currently comprised of 12 research staff and works with over 20 research associates who are working towards developing clinical insights to support healthy aging. They also receive great support from St. Peter’s & McMaster Chair of Aging, Dr. Sharon Marr.

One of the most recent research highlights was a project concerning frailty, one of the strategic directives of the GERAS Centre. Dr. Courtney Kennedy, GERAS Associate Scientific Director and Dr. Olga Gajic-Veljanoski, GERAS Postdoctoral Scientist, studied the effects of obesity on frailty using the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study (CaMos) cohort. This study showed that individuals who were obese had a faster rate of frailty deficit accumulation over 10-years than normal weight individuals. This conclusion will add great value in frailty prevention methods for older adults. Based on this work Dr. Kennedy was awarded the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) Young Investigator Award for her oral presentation entitled Baseline Obesity is Predictive of More Rapid Frailty Onset: A 10-year Analysis of the CaMos Study.

Promoting optimal aging and reducing frailty right from the patient’s home is another initiative GERAS is currently implementing through their Targeting, Referring, Intervening to Promote Healthy AGEing (TRIAGE) study in partnership with McMaster University’s Teams Advancing Patient Experience: Strengthening Quality (TAPESTRY) Program. Participants work with the research team to create a six-month plan that includes physical activity, medication management, nutritional coaching and social support and their progress is tracked through in-home bi-weekly visits. “It’s this type of work that will allow older adults to meet their health goals while maintaining their independence. I am optimistic that we will see significant results from this project,” says Dr. Papaioannou.

The quality of life of older adults and their caregivers is always the primary consideration when developing research objectives. Dr. George Ioannidis, GERAS Associate Scientific Director, and recent recipient of the American Geriatric Society’s Presidential Poster Award for his knowledge translation strategies in long-term care to prevent hip fractures notes, “The scientists at GERAS recognize that this should be the utmost consideration while developing research objectives.”

The team also knows that collaboration is often the key to success. “One of the greatest strengths of GERAS is our wide range of collaborators that not only includes other academic and research institutes but also corporate and community partners,” explains Dr. Kennedy. “We are doing integrated research; our knowledge users are engaged throughout the research process. This adds relevance, strengthens our projects and ultimately ensures that once our studies are done, we are moving knowledge into practice.”

The GERAS Centre adds great value to the community by also providing educational programs that bring research to older adults to help prevent hospitalization. The team worked with experts at HHS and McMaster University to develop GERAS to Go, a public workshop series on aging well. The first module took place this past summer, focusing on Successful Aging and was fully registered after only four days. The module covered a variety of topics including what to expect as one ages, nutrition tips, how to stay active and strategies for maintaining independence. The Centre is very excited to continue directly engaging the community and will be presenting future GERAS to Go modules on Planning for the Future and Understanding Dementia. 

Mentorship is important at GERAS, and undergraduate and graduate students, medical students, PhD Candidates, and Post-Docs working with the Centre have gone on to make great achievements. The GERAS team believes in supporting emerging leaders in health care and looks forward to continually working with students and graduates of various education levels and disciplines.

The Centre is looking forward to continuously advancing the care of older adults and their caregivers throughout their journey and is working on a project to incorporate value-based procurement into the local health system. The idea is, involve end-users (patients, hospitals, etc.) in the product development process instead of picking the closest-fitting pre-existing solution for a given problem. This idea will revolutionize the way innovations in health care are established in Canada.

The work of the GERAS Centre truly defines innovation in health care. Dr. Papaioannou recognizes the passion of the GERAS staff and their affiliates in ensuring older adults have happy, healthy lives, “Our ultimate goal is to empower older adults to achieve their health goals through innovative clinical research, education, and collaboration. We do this by translating knowledge into practice.”

To learn more about the GERAS Centre, please visit www.gerascentre.ca.