Center for Optimal Aging awarded state grant for dementia research

Center for Optimal Aging awarded state grant for dementia research


Marymount University’s Center for Optimal Aging has been awarded a grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Alzheimer’s and Related Diseases Research Award Fund (ARDRAF) that will support investigation into the feasibility of remote online administration of the Otago Exercise Program for individuals with dementia, supervised by their care partners.

Dr. Julie Ries, principal investigator and Professor of Physical Therapy at Marymount, has conducted research over the last 15 years on falls prevention and balance training programs at clinics with dementia patients. In recent years, she’s traveled with her students to adult day health centers to teach group balance training classes. However, she discovered that once the classes were completed, the patients’ balance progress would stall out.

“There’s no more balance training once we leave,” Dr. Ries said. “It’s not anyone’s fault. The staffing at these centers makes it very difficult for them to take on the intervention. So we’re trying to find a way to do something that would be more sustainable.”

The ARDRAF grant will be used by Dr. Ries and her team to explore how technology can be used to bring the Otago Exercise Program directly into patients’ homes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote technology has become commonplace in society as more people have had to rely on it for their jobs and day-to-day activities. Remote administration for Otago could overcome substantial access barriers to the program, and investigators will determine the viability of this option by assessing program functionality, utility and effectiveness.

“We figured this kind of program would be possible because the manpower is within the family,” Dr. Ries explained. “We’ll start with online oversight and connect the person with dementia and their care partner with a research assistant.”

“Once a week, they’ll all be online on Zoom and exercise together as a social activity. And then a couple of other times a week, the pair will be assigned to do it on their own and would access the videos themselves. We’ll do it for eight weeks with supervision and we’ll test them afterwards to see if they’ve improved. And then, the goal over the final eight weeks will be to withdraw the oversight of the research assistant and to really get the pair to be more independent. In a perfect world after 16 weeks, the pair is invested and can continue to do the exercises on their own.”

The results will help Dr. Ries and her team guide and inform adaptations of future remote training efforts for people with dementia, with implications at the individual, family and societal levels. Their goal is to recruit 24 pairs of patients and caregivers over the course of the project, which will last through Summer 2023. They will use a rolling recruitment model in which several pairs start at one point while others would start a few months later.

“The whole goal of this project is to create something that’s more sustainable so that even when the research is done, hopefully people will keep benefiting from what we’re trying to do,” Dr. Ries said. “We’re really excited about it.”

In addition to her students, Dr. Ries will work with several Marymount professors and experts that include Dr. Patricia C. Heyn, Founding Director of the Center for Optimal Aging; Dr. Rita Wong, Associate Vice President for Research; Dr. Uma Kelekar, Associate Professor of Health Care Management; and Dr. Catherine Diaz-Asper, Assistant Professor of Psychology.