A landmark study aimed at improving the food intake, health and quality of life of older adults in long-term care homes is among three projects at the University of Waterloo receiving close to $1.5 million in grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).
Professor Heather Keller, of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo, and a Schlegel research chair in nutrition and aging, will receive $979,000 over two years to investigate why many Canadians living in long-term care homes are poorly nourished. The project marks the first research into factors impacting food intake in long-term care settings.
“We know that food intake in long-term care tends to be poor, and that residents have poor nutrition as a result. But what we don’t know is why,” said Professor Keller. “Is the food unappealing? Is the setting institutional? Are residents having physical trouble eating?”
To conduct the complex study, teams of researchers will monitor the food intake patterns of 800 randomly selected residents in 32 long-term care homes located in four different provinces. The pioneering project will evaluate how factors like meal quality, food access and mealtime experience impact food consumption.
“It’s not just one thing impacting food intake. If we can understand broadly what is happening, what are the big deterrents to food intake, we can successfully intervene on a large scale,” said Professor Keller. “Poor food intake is both preventable and treatable.”
The study’s findings are expected to help optimize health-care practices and enhance the quality of life of Canada’s aging population.
Two other Waterloo researchers are recipients of CIHR grants.
Professor Colleen Maxwell, of the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty of Science, is investigating frailty, medication use and related health outcomes for older adults receiving home care and long-term care services across Ontario. The grant will fund a project to help develop measures to predict those most at risk for sub-optimal medication use and poor health outcomes.
Professor Suzanne Tyas, of the School of Public Health and Health Systems in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, will investigate the impact of early-life factors such as education, academic performance, linguistic ability and genetics on cognitive resilience. The findings will inform public health interventions and public policy targeted in early life to maximize cognitive health throughout the lifespan.