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Researchers study how to improve care for people with disabilities

Mar 9, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

McMaster School of Nursing professors are beginning work on two new studies that will dissect “big data” and explore ways to improve care for Canadians with or at risk for disabilities. 

This month, the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) awarded teams of researchers Catalyst Grants (for one-year studies) to use the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging database and analyse its data about more than 50,000 Canadians. Two of those research teams involve professors in the School of Nursing. 

Dr. Kathryn Fisher is the principal investigator of one project that will investigate people with two or more chronic health problems (multimorbidity). Researchers will determine the prevalence of mental health conditions in people with multimorbidity, and compare disability in those  with multimorbidity that includes mental health conditions versus those with multimorbidity that does not include mental health conditions. “Our hypothesis is that people whose multiple conditions include mental health conditions will be more disabled, will require more assistance, and will ultimately be  less independent,” says Fisher. If the data confirms this, it will mean that health care policy makers need to put more resources into addressing mental health (in addition to addressing multimorbidity generally). “Mental health is almost always excluded from studies on multimorbidity,” says Fisher. “Just including mental health and making sure it’s captured in multimorbidity research is an important first step in understanding multimorbidity and its impact.”

Dr. Diana Sherifali is a co-investigator on another study using the CLSA database. The team will examine lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and poor nutrition and how they are associated with the risk of disability. “It is likely that risk factors may impact disability differently in men and women, in middle-aged compared to older, in higher educated compared to lower educated, in individuals with a large social network compared to individuals who have little social support,” says Sherifali. Understanding these relations will increase understanding of disability, how it develops, and how it might be prevented. 

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