Researchers join Canadian team to study dementia


Three SFU researchers have joined a new Canadian initiative to address the problems posed to the individual and society by disorders such as dementia.

Over 340 experts in the field of neurodegenerative disease research across the country are involved in the effort coordinated by the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), an organization dedicated to examining this growing issue.

“We need to look at the various ways of attacking [neurodegenerative diseases].”

With a rapidly aging population in the developed world, this initiative is one of many that are being created globally to combat the emergence of neurodegenerative diseases.

“It is a very large research network that has been set up by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to look at the emerging problems around neurodegenerative diseases,” said Andrew Sixsmith, professor of gerontology at SFU and the director of the Gerontology Research Centre.

Sixsmith, along with SFU engineering science professor Mirza Faisal Beg and SFU biomedical physiology and kinesiology professor Charles Krieger, form one of the 20 multidisciplinary teams involved with the CCNA.

“My particular interest is with dementia. I think we all know that the Canadian population is aging, and the population worldwide is aging. Diseases and conditions like dementia are age related,” Sixsmith told The Peak. “There are an increasing number of people with neurodegenerative conditions. We need to look at the various ways of attacking it.”

When asked about his team’s particular focus, Sixsmith explained, “We are looking specifically at how we can use information technologies to help people with dementia live independently at home. One of the things that I’m particularly interested in is using readily available technology such as apps on smart phones to help people with very mild dementia live a bit more independently.”

On the question of SFU’s contribution to the overarching research, Joy Johnson, SFU’s VP research, was optimistic: “This consortium, which is being funded by the CIHR, is a large consortium that is crossing Canada and is really engaging top scientists in the field.

“The three researchers [from SFU] who are involved with this work are playing an important role in terms of advancing the science and our understanding of neurodegeneration in aging.

“Canada is a world leader in the field of neuroscience,” Johnson continued. “We partner on a number of international initiatives related to the neurosciences and this initiative really solidifies Canada’s strength in the field.

“I think it will really advance the field and keep Canada on top of what it really is — an international effort to understand issues like Alzheimer’s diseases and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Sixsmith agreed with Johnson: “SFU has a major role in this particular area of research. Beyond the CCNA initiative, we recently submitted a large proposal for a network of sensors embedded in senior homes across Canada that would further support independent living.

“Helping support independence of all people is about letting them reach their aspirations, rather than just giving them basic services.”