2021 RM Gibson Program Recipients

AAG would like to congratulate the following individuals on their successful applications for the 2021 RM Gibson Program:

Sally Day
University of Sydney

Sally Day is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. She is an occupational therapist with clinical experience working in health and aged care and has co-ordinated research projects at Flinders University and the University of Sydney. Sally’s PhD research is derived from her work with the Care Of People with dementia in their Environments (COPE) program; she is passionate about supporting people living with dementia and promoting the role that occupational therapists can play in providing comprehensive dementia specific interventions for people living in the community.

Project: Cultural adaptation of an occupational therapy intervention for dementia.

Award: $7,000

Project summary: There is health inequity in access to services and health outcomes for older people in Australia stemming from the social determinants of health. To ensure equitable outcomes in dementia, it is imperative that care programs are available to all Australians.
Functional decline is one of the core features of dementia leading to the need for increased care and eventual institutionalisation. Research has shown that occupational therapy interventions can improve the well-being of the person with dementia and their care partner. However, little has been done to look at how to deliver these programs to culturally and socio-economically diverse people.
This research will explore how evidence-based occupational therapy dementia need to be adapted to be acceptable, inclusive and effective for diverse older Australians.
The project will work collaboratively with two stakeholder groups: occupational therapist and program recipients (people with dementia and their care partners). To understand how occupational therapy dementia programs need to be adapted, we will conduct focus groups and interviews with these stakeholders. Then, we will co-design a culturally adaptable program and test this with people with dementia and care partners, representative of diverse groups. Reflections from program recipients will be combined with evaluations of the effectiveness of the program. The findings will continually be used to refine the program throughout the project. The key outcomes of this research will be investigating whether the program worked at supporting people with dementia and their care partners, and also identifying the specific components of the program that enabled this to happen.

Jenna Smith
Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney

Jenna Smith is a PhD candidate in the Sydney School of Public Health at The University of Sydney. She is currently a member of the Sydney Health Literacy Lab and Wiser Healthcare. Jenna completed her Psychology Honours degree in 2018 and The University of Sydney's Medical School Summer Research Scholarship in 2018/19. Since then, she has been collaborating nationally within her research collaboration (Wiser Healthcare) and internationally on a range of projects in the areas of medical decision-making and communication, health literacy, overdiagnosis and impacts of disease labelling. Jenna started leading her own PhD program of research in March 2020, aiming to develop a psychological intervention to support older adults to make informed cancer screening decisions. She is supervised by a multidisciplinary team of researchers including Prof Kirsten McCaffery, Dr Rachael Dodd, Dr Erin Cvejic, Prof Vasi Naganathan, and A/Prof Jesse Jansen.

Project: Examining Australian older adults’ breast, prostate, cervical and colorectal cancer screening decision-making

Award: $6,975

Project summary: Cancer screening programs and guidelines in Australia now include upper age limits for eligibility (e.g., 75 years for BreastScreen) due to the reduced chance of benefit and increased chance of harm. However, many Australian older adults (≥65 years) have strong interest in screening and limited knowledge of the reduced benefit. Pro-screening attitudes and cancer anxiety are likely drivers of this interest and may undermine efforts to promote informed decision-making. Additionally, screening programs with upper age limits lack flexibility to tailor screening choices to older adults’ individual circumstances, especially if not accompanied with adequate decision support. My study program aims to develop a psychological intervention that supports older adults to make an informed decision about continuing or stopping cancer screening by addressing key barriers to informed choice. As part of this program, I will conduct a survey study to investigate older adults’ (≥70 years) breast, prostate, cervical and colorectal cancer screening decision-making. The study will quantitatively assess and summarise the factors older adults consider around decision-making (e.g., age, risk, life expectancy, benefits/harms) and experiences of discussions with health professionals related to screening. A sample of 700 participants who vary in demographic and health characteristics will be recruited through multiple recruitment avenues described below. A qualitative interview study (in progress) will inform the development of a purpose-built questionnaire. Together, this evidence will inform the development of an intervention that addresses the key barriers to informed cancer screening decision-making. This will help minimise harms to older people from unnecessary screening and subsequent overtreatment.

Nikki-Anne Wilson
Neuroscience Research Australia/University of New South Wales

Nikki-Anne Wilson recently commenced a Postdoctoral Fellowship with Prof Kaarin Anstey at Neuroscience Research Australia. She completed her PhD at the Brain and Mind Centre, The University of Sydney examining memory and social cognition in the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Nikki-Anne’s skills in cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology align with her passion to support more positive ageing and reduce the risk of developing dementia. Nikki-Anne is passionate about science communication, a regular speaker at science outreach events, and is involved in several school mentoring programmes which encourage students to pursue science related careers.

Project: Improvisation Engagement and Dementia (ImprovED): A Theatre Programme to Enhance Quality of Life in Older Adults with Cognitive Decline

Award: $6,815

Project summary: An ageing population increases the need for programmes which assist older adults to live full and independent lives for as long as possible. Dementia presents a significant challenge to health and aged care in Australia, affecting almost 1 in 10 people aged 65 or over (AIHW, 2020). Despite best efforts, dementia treatments remain frustratingly sparse, particularly in relation to those targeting overall wellbeing and quality of life. The emergence of non-pharmacological interventions, such as theatre based activities, in improving quality of life in a range of clinical disorders has shown great promise in this area. This project aims to (i) conduct a scoping review of the benefits of theatre based programmes as a non-pharmacological intervention in clinical disorders; (ii) administer a 4-6 week pilot programme using improvisation exercises focusing on social connection, and emotional and physical expression in order to improve wellbeing in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early stage dementia. Results from this study will set the stage for future work potentially targeting more specific social and behavioural symptoms associated with dementia. Increasing wellbeing, reducing depression, and maintaining independence in older adults at risk for entering residential care is important to reduce both the economic and personal impact from dementia. Social engagement and cognitively stimulating activities are essential aspects of enhancing quality of life in older adulthood. This study provides the foundation for a novel intervention which offers a range of future clinical applications and can accommodate various levels of ability.

Awarded in partnership with Dementia Australia Research Foundation (DARF)

Dana Pourzinal
The University of Queensland

Dana is a 2nd year PhD scholar at the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research, conducting a programme of research dedicated to understanding and treating dementia in Parkinson’s disease. Throughout her PhD, she has developed advanced skills in statistical analysis, neuroimaging, and clinical trial management in order to answer questions about the progression of dementia in Parkinson’s disease. Despite being in early stages of her career, Dana has built a strong foundation in neurodegenerative research and successfully collaborated with renown international researchers in the U.S. and U.K.


Project: Confirming prognostic validity of the dual syndrome hypothesis of dementia in relation to Parkinson’s disease

Award: $6,994

Project summary: 
Background: The Dual Syndrome Hypothesis suggests that there are two distinct cognitive syndromes within PD; a frontal and posterior-cortical syndrome.1 The posterior-cortical syndrome is suggested to be susceptible to a more rapid and severe decline toward dementia than the frontal syndrome. Yet concrete evidence to validate the trajectory of these subtypes is limited.
Research question: We aim to identify the frontal and posterior subtypes in independent samples and determine whether the predictions of the dual syndrome hypothesis hold true. Does the posterior-cortical subtype truly show more rapid cognitive decline than the frontal syndrome?
Method: Our previous work identified the dual syndromes in a sample of 85 people with PD using machine learning algorithms.2 To compare the longitudinal cognitive progression of each syndrome, we will invite all previous participants to complete a comprehensive cognitive battery and thus determine rate of global cognitive decline. Similar methodology will be used to identify and follow the cognitive trajectory of the dual syndrome subtypes in large-scale longitudinal datasets, to validate the findings.
Significance: By operationalising these cognitive subtypes in independent samples and following their cognitive progression, we will validate the clinical significance of the dual syndrome hypothesis. Ultimately, we endeavour to identify a cognitive subtype most at risk of imminent dementia for the future purposes of a) exploring neuroimaging biomarkers of dementia in PD; and b) optimising clinical trial efficiency. As such, this project will contribute to the current paradigm shift toward biomarker development and preventative medicine for dementia in PD.