seniors gardening

Training program aims to help older adults to continue living independently

Dr. Deirdre Dawson

Dr. Deirdre Dawson, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, is collaborating with seniors’ centres across Toronto to study a training program that could help older adults preserve their independence as they age.

Baycrest scientists are collaborating with seniors’ centres across Toronto to study a training program that could help older adults preserve their independence as they age.

The Real World Strategy Training (RWST) regimen, an educational intervention, could help delay the onset of dementia symptoms and drastically reduce healthcare costs for Canadians. This research could provide seniors’ centres a scalable and cost-effective care program for older adults facing difficulties in completing everyday tasks and experiencing changes to their memory and thinking abilities.

“We believe RWST can support people before their ability to perform everyday tasks significantly declines,” says Dr. Deirdre Dawson, a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and a licensed occupational therapist. “These lessons can also be applied to new difficulties when they arise.”

Between 25 to 50 per cent of older adults living independently at home experience minor cognitive issues. Research has shown that self-identified memory and thinking problems may be a predictor of dementia.

“This is a serious public health problem, which is why we have focused our attention on developing interventions to prevent or reverse the decline in thinking and memory skills within this older adult population,” says Dr. Dawson, who is also a professor of occupational science and occupational therapy at the University of Toronto.

This work builds upon Dr. Dawson’s recent pilot study, which used RWST on older adults (aged 65+) with self-identified cognitive decline. Participants saw significant improvements in their ability to complete identified everyday tasks and 61.5 per cent of participants’ goals were achieved through use of the intervention. They also improved in other areas, such as physical activity and communication with physicians, which were not directly trained through RWST.

This new study will run for eight weeks and research participants will take part in training sessions involving education, exercises to stimulate thinking and memory, and homework at Baycrest’s Wagman Centre and other seniors’ centres across the Greater Toronto region. Training will involve a mix of seven group sessions and four individual sessions that last between 45 minutes and two hours. Participants will have their thinking abilities assessed using questionnaires and paper and pencil tests before and after the study.

The research is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which helped support the research staff and study expenses, such as staff training and time, equipment and participant testing.

Additional funding could help expand the availability of this training program into more seniors’ centres and support the development of training manuals and a training app for seniors’ centre staff.

The study is seeking research participants over the age of 60 who experience memory and thinking problems, but have no medical diagnosis. Participants should be able to identify everyday tasks which they may struggle with, such as running errands or participating in hobbies.

For more information, contact Yael Bar, Senior Centres’ study coordinator, at ybar@research.baycrest.org or (416) 785-2500 ext. 3377.

You can support our scientists’ work that could offer more older adults the choice to independently age at home. Increasing numbers of older adults seek home care services and long-term care homes, which is stretching government resources thin to handle this overwhelming demand. Donate online today or call the Baycrest donations line at 416-785-2875.