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Spring/Summer 2021

Research Changemakers

Improving quality of life for seniors

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | Spring/Summer 2021


UNB researchers have received nearly $6 million in provincial and federal funding for research to support healthy aging for seniors in their homes, communities and care facilities. 

The three-year Healthy Seniors Pilot Project will support a range of applied research initiatives to examine how governments, in partnership with the community and private sectors, can better support seniors. Visit the UNB Research Blog for more. 

Danielle Bouchard and Martin Sénéchal

Danielle Bouchard is an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology. Her research primarily focuses on aging, clinical exercise physiology, and chronic conditions and exercise; more specifically the impact of exercise for those living with chronic conditions. Martin Sénéchal is an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology. His research on the treatment and management of individuals living with obesity and Type 2 diabetes has a three-pronged approach: enhancing the efficacy of lifestyle interventions that target increased physical activity; understanding why individuals living with obesity and Type 2 diabetes may or may not benefit from exercise; and identifying predictors and understanding why some obese individuals remain healthy despite high adiposity levels. Together, Dr. Bouchard and Dr. Sénéchal are directors of the Cardiometabolic, Exercise and Lifestyle Lab (CELLAB), located at UNB. 


Dr. Bouchard, in collaboration with Dr. Sénéchal, will expand the Zoomers on the Go fall prevention exercise program across New Brunswick. Focusing on the improvement of physical function and maintenance of independence for seniors, Zoomers for All received $622,044 in funding.  

Zoomers on the Go is a study that educates people 50 years and older on fall prevention and has them participate in a 12-week, peer-led exercise program. Once they have completed the program, the participants are followed by the research team for up to 10 years to look for health care outcomes. “More specifically, over the 10 years, we plan to test if hospital admission, surgeries, and visits to physicians have decreased among those who have participated in the program compared with similar people in New Brunswick not participating in the program,” says Dr. Bouchard. 

The expanded Zoomers for All program, which is now being offered in person and online, will make exercise more accessible to more New Brunswickers. “Unlike many programs that often neglect rural areas, Zoomers for All, will be accessible to almost any older adult in the province,” says Dr. Bouchard. “Many older adults do not exercise enough to reap the health and functional benefits.”  

“Knowledge transfer is significant to me. I love to see the results of research projects reach the community so people can have a better lifestyle because we have seen the benefits.” 

Dr. Bouchard is also adamant that any research she does needs to be meaningful to her participants. “Knowledge transfer is significant to me,” she says. “I love to see the results of research projects reach the community so people can have a better lifestyle because we have seen the benefits.” 


Dr. Sénéchal, along with Dr. Bouchard, will explore how the combination of exercise using elastic bands and education about diabetes management will affect the functionality among adults aged 65 and above living with diabetes and frailty. The Band-Frail Study: A Provincial Intervention to Outweigh Diabetes and Frailty in New Brunswick research project was awarded $469,645. 

“New Brunswick has one of the highest rates of diabetes and a very high average age rate in the country,” says Dr. Sénéchal. “These two factors lead to an aging population with quickly declining health and increased chances of fatal health issues. Through my research, I have seen the impact of diabetes on the people of this province and the benefits that lifestyle interventions can have on their health.”  

“I have seen the impact of diabetes on the people of this province and the benefits that lifestyle interventions can have on their health.”  

The Band-Frail Study is composed of exercise and education for older adults living with both frailty and Type 2 diabetes. This program is based on evidence from a trial conducted in Europe that saw improved outcomes for enhanced diabetes management and physical function in a similar population.   

The 16-week program is delivered twice a week by a certified diabetes educator and an exercise specialist. One session will consist of 20 minutes of diabetes management education and 25 minutes of resistance training using resistance bands. The second session per week will consist only of the resistance training.  

“We are using a pre- and post-analysis to quantify changes on some of the health outcomes our group is interested in, including physical function, glycemic control (blood sugar), nutrition, and quality of life. We will also be looking at sex and gender to catch any potential differences. In addition, we are performing a cost benefit analysis of the program to determine any long-term cost savings for the province. Finally, we will be tracking the results of our participants after five and 10 years, so we can assess the impact of the program on long-term health outcomes.”    

Shelley Doucet

Shelley Doucet (BN’05, PhD’10) will examine the improvement of how health and social care providers diagnose and support persons with dementia. The research project, Co-designing Dementia Care in New Brunswick: Building the Future Together, received funding of $495,259.  

Dr. Doucet is the Jarislowsky chair in interprofessional patient-centred care, associate professor in nursing, and director of the Centre for Research in Integrated Care (CRIC) at UNB. She and colleagues Dr. Pamela Jarrett (BSc’87), Horizon Health Network geriatrician and associate professor of medicine at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick; and Dr. Alison Luke (BA’92), research associate at CRIC, are seeking to improve health and social care providers’ knowledge of how to communicate a dementia diagnosis, and how to provide support in the 12 months following the diagnosis for persons with dementia and their care partners. In addition, the team wants to increase the awareness and use of existing services and supports for persons with dementia and their care partners. 

This project involves collaboration across five countries: Canada (with projects in New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec), Australia, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. In each country, persons with dementia, care partners and health and social care providers are involved as members of the co-design teams. The co-design process involves working collaboratively with these stakeholder groups to ensure the results meet their needs and are usable. 

With public awareness as one of the main goals, the team is developing a website, resources and promotional activities, using insights from formative research with the target audiences and input from the co-design teams. 

Together, the teams will use the resources they develop to launch a campaign called Forward with Dementia, with key messages and topics including ‘find your way forward with dementia’ and ‘your next steps start here.’ 

“This will help ensure that people with dementia and their care partners are receiving the supports and levels of care they need.”

“We anticipate that the project will enhance the knowledge and preparedness of health and social care providers,” says Dr. Doucet. “In turn, this will help ensure that people with dementia and their care partners are receiving the supports and levels of care they need. In addition, we hope to improve awareness of the services and supports available for people with, or at risk of, dementia and their care partners. Sharing the results of our project will help other stakeholders implement similar projects in their region. Thus, this study provides an opportunity to share lessons learned and improve dementia care at a provincial, national and global level.” 

Chris McGibbon

Chris McGibbon (BScEng’88, PhD’94) is a professor of kinesiology and a senior researcher at UNB’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering. His expertise covers a broad spectrum of human movement sciences, primarily focused on mobility and balance disorders in seniors and in people with neurological and orthopedic disorders, and the study of advanced rehabilitation technologies. Recently, he’s turned his attention to preventing mobility decline in seniors at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.  

To accomplish this, he’s working with UNB colleagues Dr. Danielle Bouchard and Dr. Sandra Magalhaes, and with Horizon Health Network geriatrician and associate professor of medicine at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Dr. Pamela Jarrett (BSc’87). 

Dr. McGibbon and Dr. Jarrett, along with a veritable phonebook of collaborators, are leading the New Brunswick Brain Health Initiative: Preventing Alzheimer’s by Lessening Modifiable Risk (NB-PALM), which received $2,697,913 in funding.  

“Interventions that promote physical and cognitive activity are beginning to show evidence for slowing the progression to dementia,” says Dr. McGibbon. “In our NB-PALM project, we will offer physical exercises and cognitive enhancing activities to older adults at risk of developing dementia, delivered virtually in their own home. By making knowledge of strategies to enhance brain health accessible to older adults and their caretakers, we will hopefully be able to reduce their risk for dementia, resulting in healthier and happier people and communities.” 

“Interventions that promote physical and cognitive activity are beginning to show evidence for slowing the progression to dementia.”

Dr. McGibbon also foresees positive impacts beyond reducing dementia risk for older New Brunswickers, and even beyond seniors and their caretakers. 

“Many of the known risk factors for dementia are also associated with other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke,” he says. “Reducing risk factors may also translate into less personal and overall health care costs associated with having dementia and other health conditions. So, part of what we’re hoping to achieve is bringing increased awareness of how expensive and resource-intensive the lack of preventative health programs and capacity is for our healthcare systems and our society.” 

The diverse team working on NB-PALM includes engineers, physicians, nurses, psychologists, kinesiologists and epidemiologists, among others, and represents a strong collaboration across institutions in the province and beyond. Project partners include UNB, Université de Moncton, Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick, Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network within New Brunswick, as well as Western University, Baycrest Hospital in Toronto, Université de Montréal and the University of California, San Diego’s Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, among the national and international partners. 

That collaboration will allow the project to be rolled out in both official languages and across the province, as well as engaging with other experts, building capacity in New Brunswick, and sharing the unique capacities housed at UNB with other researchers. 

For Dr. McGibbon, that rich tapestry of voices and skill sets is part of the appeal: “Working with a large and diverse group is always a learning experience for everyone involved, and everyone comes out of that experience with more than what they came in with. This means that everything we do together feeds forward in innumerable ways. It’s a remarkable and rewarding thing to witness.”   

Tracey Rickards

Dr. Tracey Rickards (BN’86, MN’05), associate professor in the faculty of nursing at UNB, received more than $1.5 million in funding towards the Mobile Seniors’ Wellness Network: Reaching Rural New Brunswickers research project.

This innovative project has the potential to contribute to the ability of seniors to age-in-place. A multidisciplinary team including nurses and social workers will make home visits to monitor the health and safety needs of seniors and assess and augment foot care. This work will contribute to enhanced understanding of the needs of older adults and inform the concurrent development and contribution to a resource bank that will provide access to information and services for older adults who are living in their homes.

“I loved that we worked with an interdisciplinary team to provide health and mental health services and access to social development, housing, whatever the vulnerable populations we served needed.”

Dr. Rickards is one of our featured alumni changemakers, read her story and more about her research.