RSELVES study examines patterns of engagement

Senior couple laughing and cooking in the kitchen

NIH awards OHSU $3.5M grant to investigate the decline in everyday function among older adults.

New federal funding will enable Lyndsey Miller, Ph.D., RN, assistant professor at the OHSU School of Nursing, and an early career investigator with the Oregon Center on Aging and Technology, to investigate the decline in everyday function among older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, or ADRD.

The National Institute on Aging grant, totaling $3.5 million over five years, will support the “RSELVES Study: Remote sensing of (older adult partners’) engagement in life and variability in everyday support.”

Miller’s RSELVES Study will examine patterns of engagement in physical and social activities over time among older adult spouses/partners in Oregon and South Texas using digital data from their homes and smartphones. Couples will also fill out regular surveys about the ways in which they support each other at home. These data will contribute to the critical public health need to discover ways to delay functional disability related to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The focus on interdependence in couples’ routines and functions is what makes this study so innovative. Reframing functional decline and measuring dementia-related functional decline in couples as an interdependent process may uncover the early dynamics of changes in life engagement. One of Miller’s ultimate goals is to discern novel opportunities to target couples’ daily routines in order to delay the cascade of losses that can lead to functional dependence and degraded well-being in people living with dementia.

“This is so important because the majority of older adults are married or cohabiting with an intimate partner and, despite their daily routines being very intertwined, dementia is usually only diagnosed based upon changes in the patient’s function,” said Miller.

Looking at this process as interdependent and detecting subtle changes and shifting of activities earlier could make it possible to know when and where to intervene to ensure couples know how to support each other and preserve function as long as possible.

This funding builds on and extends the reach of Miller’s previous NIH-funded research on the dynamics of people living with dementia and their caregivers. The project continues longstanding research collaborations, including at two of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers funded by the National Institute on Aging: The OHSU Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the South Texas Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio.

Miller will also continue collaborations with the OHSU Centers on Aging and Technology, or ORCATECH; and Oregon Roybal Center for Care Support Translational Research Advantaged by Integrating Technology, or ORCASTRAIT.

“Ultimately we hope to use the findings from this study to help delay the onset of dementia-related functional disability, so that the millions of people at risk of dementia, and even those who have a diagnosis, can continue to live their lives at home and do what is most important to them,” Miller said.

The award number is 1R01AG080644-01, through the National Institute on Aging, or NIA, of the NIH. Miller also received NIH funding for career development (K01AG059839) and predoctoral training (F31NR015195).

By Christi Richardson-Zboralski