Professor Colleen Maxwell's research has potential to maximize independence among seniors and improve their quality of life

Monday, November 2, 2015

As Canada’s population is aging, a team of researchers led by a Waterloo Pharmacy professor is investigating new ways to identify seniors most at risk of having adverse drug reactions, with the goal of improving their quality of life.

“Our work on frailty is a very exciting area of research and may point to ways to improve medication use and outcomes in vulnerable older adults,” said Colleen Maxwell, a professor in the Schools of Pharmacy and Public Health and Health Systems.

As people age, they may be dealing with more than one chronic condition and as a result are taking many medications, meaning their care is very complex, said Maxwell. While there may be several people involved in their care, often there isn’t one person co-ordinating everything so “there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong with their medication use,” she said.

The goal is to identify seniors who are most vulnerable and use that information to change things, such as simplifying their drug regimen so that they aren’t at risk of having a bad drug reaction or complication that can lead to a hospital visit.

Researchers, clinicians and policy makers are interested in using the concept of frailty to try and predict those scenarios in a large-scale study of seniors receiving home- and long-term care services across Canada.

The research is broken into two streams. The first is a $430,000 grant funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and looks at about 200,000 older Canadians getting home care services. Maxwell is the co-lead investigator on that study, along with Dr. Susan Bronskill at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

The second, of which Maxwell is one of five co-lead investigators working with researchers across Canada, is a $600,000 grant funded by Technology Evaluation in the Elderly — a federal government funded network — and involves between 200,000 to 300,000 long-term care residents.

Researchers are tracking the overall health and function of the people involved in the study — information collected during standard clinical assessments by home- and long-term care staff — and cross-referencing that data with medication use and how often those people are hospitalized because of drug reactions or other complications. The team is investigating whether the concept of frailty can predict when someone might experience a bad drug reaction or other health-related setback.

The idea is that if researchers can use that data to identify vulnerable people then they can find better ways to care for those people. That may include changing a person’s medication, how much or how often they take it or possibly putting them on a medication they need.

“The ultimate goal for all of us is to think about interventions,” said Maxwell. “How do we use this information to design interventions?”

The research, funded through to 2017, has the potential to maximize independence among seniors and enhance their quality of life.

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