Waterloo researchers awarded global grant to study care of older adults

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

John Hirdes and George Heckman, both professors in the School of Public Health and Health Systems, have received a $500,000 New Frontiers Research Fund Global Grant, the first of its kind to be awarded to Waterloo researchers. The grant is the Canadian component of a $8.9 million integrated 10-country European Union project, Horizon 2020, on the care of older persons in nursing homes and home care settings.

John Hirdes.The overall project will address the multidimensional challenges and care needs of older persons and develop high-quality decision support tools to improve health care for older persons with complex needs. Researchers will be able to use personalized health datasets to better predict trajectories of change in health, functional status and frailty.

The Waterloo study will also provide a unique opportunity for international research on the physical and mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable older adults in long-term care settings. The data available to the researchers include millions of comprehensive, person-level, longitudinal assessment records in home care and nursing homes, beginning in 2010 and continuing through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

“We will use advanced analytic techniques, including machine learning and artificial intelligence to examine more than 20 million Canadian assessment records to uncover the key risk factors affecting COVID-19 mortality and health outcomes for vulnerable persons,” said Hirdes.

George Heckman.Heckman added, “By succinctly synthesizing complex clinical information, this work will help clinicians provide better individualized and person-centered care.”

The interdisciplinary research team includes senior investigators, mid-career researchers and young investigators from 10 countries: Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United States. This collaborative network builds on partnerships between universities, health care service providers, governments, professional associations and industry. The team includes practicing clinicians, government agencies, university-based researchers, teaching hospitals and software developers.

“We will collaborate with established and young researchers in Canada and internationally to create novel decision-support tools that will help inform the complex choices health professionals must make in collaboration with older adults,” said Heckman.

In Canada, the key partners will include the Canadian Institute for Health Information, governments, health care provider organizations, professional associations and advocacy groups.

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