Vulnerable and disadvantaged populations face significant challenges in achieving good health. As a result, this population experiences earlier death and more complications from illness compared to others.
It is critical that we develop a better understanding of the factors that influence health, and work to intervene across both the community and clinical health settings to promote equity in health and wellbeing outcomes.
Our work focuses on vulnerable and potentially vulnerable population groups. These include those with chronic and complex health conditions, communities of low socioeconomic status, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people residing in regional and remote areas, and older Australians.
Our work crosses a range of health areas including preventive healthcare, chronic disease, cancer, end-of-life care, dementia, substance abuse, and mental health.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (hereafter respectfully referred to as Aboriginal people) are the Indigenous people of Australia. Aboriginal people comprise hundreds of distinct groups that have their own languages, histories and cultural traditions. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately 3.3% of the total Australian population. However, as a result of the ongoing impacts of colonisation, Aboriginal people continue to have poorer overall health and wellbeing and a shorter life expectancy compared to non-Aboriginal Australians.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people born in 2015 - 2017, life expectancy was estimated to be 71.6 years of age for males, and 75.6 years of age for females. This means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will live approximately eight to nine years less than non-Aboriginal males and females. Other inequalities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians relate to chronic and communicable diseases, infant health, and mental health. It's critical that meaningful research is conducted to achieve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health equality.
The new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan sets the policy direction for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing and will guide the development of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policies, programs, and initiatives over the next ten years.
Approximately 16% of the total Australian population is aged over 65 years. This proportion is expected to significantly increase to almost a quarter of all Australians by 2066.
Age is an important determinant of health, as it is often accompanied by an increased risk of declining health, functional limitations and disability. Supporting older Australians to age well is a key focus of our program. Our work recognises that older Australians are a diverse group of people of different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences and lifestyles with different priorities for living well.
Australia comprises a land area of about 7.692 million square kilometres and is the sixth-largest country by land mass in the world.
Australians living in rural and remote areas of Australia outside of large cities can face unique challenges to achieving optimal health as a direct result of their geographic location. For example, on average, Australians living in rural and remote areas live shorter lives, have higher levels of disease and injury, and can struggle to access quality health services compared with Australians living in large cities. Our work focuses on addressing the unique health challenges experienced by Australians living in regional, rural, and remote areas.
NHMRC Targeted Research Grant, 2019 - 2024
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with dementia are not diagnosed in a timely manner or provided with the very best care.
This study is using a methodologically robust, cluster-randomised controlled trial to examine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a community-based intervention in increasing the timely diagnosis of people living with dementia and the provision of best practice dementia care. Implemented in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, we'll be testing the effectiveness of a new approach to care in reducing psychosocial distress for both the person living with dementia and their carer. The intervention is culturally appropriate and the development is guided by community consultation. The project also aims to help improve community understanding of dementia and older age.
NHMRC Targeted Research into Healthy Ageing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2019 - 2027
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to experience a greater chronic disease burden compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Health Checks help to identify health risk factors before they become bigger health problems by providing an opportunity for prevention and early disease management. 715 Health Checks are available to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people once a year. Currently, not enough Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are provided with a 715 Health Check.
This project will be conducted in two phases.
Phase One will explore mainstream general practices, including:
Phase Two will develop and test a range of care enhancement strategies to increase the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients attending mainstream general practice with an up-to-date 715 Health Check. The project will also explore the impact of the care enhancement strategies on provider adherence to best practice care and patient outcomes for a number of chronic conditions.
Building on existing processes implemented in the participating practices, care enhancement strategies will be tailored to the individual practices and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities they serve.
NHMRC Ideas Grant, 2021 - 2025
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research continue to grow, with a significant amount of research undertaken in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services.
We know that ethical and high-quality research aids in addressing health disparities by informing policy and practice level change. What we don't know is how and if this is working to the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
Led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics and communities, this study will develop new knowledge about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research has been conducted and how it should be conducted from the perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, academics and governing bodies such as ethics committees. This project aims to:
NHMRC Dementia Research Team Grant, 2015 - 2023
Dementia has a huge impact on all aspects of life, not only for those diagnosed with the condition but also for their families.
Despite a large number of Australians living with dementia, more research is needed into the support, information, health care and service needs of those diagnosed with the condition and their families. The ACcORD project brings together an experienced multidisciplinary team from several universities to improve the health and quality of life of people with dementia and their carers.
This grant is funding a program of research across four key themes:
You can learn more about ACcORD on their website
Watch a video about the ACcORD dementia program here (running time 1min 15 sec).
NHMRC Boosting Dementia Research Grant, 2017 - 2022
The majority of people with dementia (approx. 70%) live in the community, many with support from family and friends. The physical, emotional and social demands of caring for persons living with dementia in the community can be high. However, it's still unclear what the best way is to provide support to carers in the community.
'iSupport' is a training and support program developed by the World Health Organisation. The program has been designed to provide skills and knowledge training to carers of people with dementia.
The randomised controlled trial will test:
ARC Discovery Grant, 2017 - 2021
Advance Personal Planning (APP) involves older people discussing and writing down their wishes about future financial, health and personal matters in case they one day are unable to communicate decisions. It helps ensure that important people in your life know and follow your wishes. APP is important for everyone, but it is particularly important for older people. Currently, the uptake of APP in the community is low and variable.
This study will provide APP information and resources to:
The aim is to test whether this community action model can increase the uptake of APP by older people in these communities.
NHMRC Targeted Call for Research, 2018 - 2023
Social connectedness is crucial to maintaining mental health. However, peer relationships with others experiencing similar life situations reduce in older age, particularly among those living in rural areas.
Web-based technology is a promising way of providing accessible, sustainable and feasible solutions to support older people in remaining socially connected. Together with seniors and web designers, the Equity in Health and Wellbeing Research Program has developed a new online community.
'Seniors Connect' is a place for seniors to connect with other seniors, form new friendships, read and post about topics of interest, share experiences, and learn from others who are at a similar stage in life. This randomised controlled trial will test the impact of 'Seniors Connect' on the health and wellbeing of older adults living in rural Australia.
Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases Grant, 2022-2024
The country of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world. Cervical cancer screening is effective at reducing deaths from this disease. However, in Eswatini rates of cervical screening are very low at just 5%. This two-phase study aims to develop and test culturally appropriate strategies to improve participation in cervical screening in Eswatini.
Phase One involves three descriptive studies that will explore barriers and enablers to cervical screening from the perspective of community-dwelling women and men, community health workers, and clinic nurses. The findings from this phase will inform Phase Two, where an implementation trial of evidence-based strategies to promote the uptake of cervical screening, such as clinic champions, education, and provision of feedback, will be developed and tested in three Estwatini clinics. We aim to achieve a 50% increase in cervical cancer screening among women attending participating clinics.
NHMRC Partnership Project, 2019 - 2024 (RecoverEsupport – Colorectal Cancer)
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer, and most patients will undergo surgical treatment. Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) pathways contain recommendations for clinicians and patients in order to improve recovery following surgery.
Evidence suggests adhering to these recommendations (e.g. getting patients up and moving and eating and drinking as soon as possible after surgery, deep breathing, managing their pain and their psychosocial wellbeing) can reduce post-operative stress and complications and the length of hospital stay. In response, we have developed the RecoverEsupport digital health intervention. This intervention consists of a website and patient and clinician alerts to encourage adherence to the above ERAS recommendations.
We are conducting a randomised controlled trial to test the effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, feasibility and acceptability of the RecoverEsupport intervention. The impact of the intervention on length of hospital stay, quality of life, re-admissions and mortality will be assessed.
The RecoverEsupport intervention will be adapted and extended for use with breast cancer oncoplastic patients. The adapted intervention will be tested in a randomised controlled trial assessing intervention effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and acceptability. The primary outcomes are the length of hospital stay and quality of life three months post-surgery.
NHMRC Partnership Project, 2021-2026 (BounceBack)
Improved delivery of care to older Australians who sustain a broken hip is a major health need. Transitions from hospital remain a high-risk process for this patient group.
The Australian Hip Fracture Clinical Care Standard recommends all hip fracture patients receive an individualised written care plan prior to discharge to support this transition. However, only 24% of hospitals routinely provide written plans and their quality and content are variable. This randomised controlled trial will test the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a multicomponent discharge package delivered to older people who have sustained a broken hip.
Patients and their nominated support persons will be randomised to either usual care or a novel action-oriented discharge intervention incorporating a:
Cost-effectiveness and health care utilisations data will be collected from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and New South Wales Admitted Patients and Emergency Department Data Collection.
Outcome data will be obtained via self-report surveys 90 days post-discharge. The robust methodology will provide currently lacking high-level causal evidence about the effectiveness of a discharge intervention to improve quality of life and reduce the likelihood of hospital readmissions for hip fracture patients.
National Heart Foundation Strategic Grant (Mental Health & Hearth Disease), 2022 - 2024
Depression is highly prevalent and associated with increased hospitalisation and mortality among patients with heart disease.
A whole-person care approach to depression management, encompassing mental wellbeing, behavioural risk factors and treatment adherence, is needed.
This study will use a randomised controlled trial to test whether a well-being app for patients discharged with Acute Decompensated Heart Failure (ADHF) reduces depression. Patients will be provided access to the developed app, and via the app, will be prompted to monitor depression and clinical outcomes. Guideline adherent actions for clinically significant depression scores and clinical outcomes (e.g., medication adherence) will be utilised.
Automated parameters within the application will trigger specific action advice for patients, such as self-care recommendations (via videos or written information). Cardiac nurse specialists will track real-time patient data from a dashboard, and receive automated emails when patients provide high-risk data. Cardiac nurses will prompt cardiologists to action, where needed. General practitioners will receive automated emails for patients reporting high levels of depression and are encouraged to schedule a patient consultation. Outcomes will be assessed at one and six months via brief measures for Quality of Life. Intervention participants will also complete brief weekly/fortnightly measures for depression via the app. Healthcare utilization will be examined via patient self-report and hospital admission data. This study has the potential to reduce the burden of depression for patients following ADHF. This novel process will prioritise urgent patient mental health needs while empowering the patient with self-care knowledge.
In Australia, over 470,000 people live with dementia.
As a result of our aging population, the number of people living with dementia is projected to double over the next 20 years. Dementia is incurable with symptoms worsening over time. Most people with dementia live in the community and express a desire to remain living at home for as long as possible. However, ensuring appropriate support to manage the symptoms of dementia and maximise the quality of life for both people with dementia and their carers can be challenging.
Funded by a $3.3 million grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the University of Newcastle-led Australian Community of Practice in Research in Dementia (ACcORD) is working to improve the support and services available for people living with dementia. The research program involves a multi-disciplinary network of local and national collaborations, comprised of influential health care providers, highly skilled researchers and other relevant stakeholders in dementia care. To ensure the research is relevant active consumers are included in the Executive and all working groups.
To improve the well-being of people with dementia and their carers it is essential that we first obtain an accurate understanding of their specific needs and concerns. Previous studies have examined the unmet needs of people with dementia from family caregivers’ or clinicians’ perspectives. However, their views may not accurately capture the unmet needs of these individuals. Where possible, people with dementia should be asked directly to report on their experiences.
Our researchers have developed the first self-report unmet needs instrument (UNI-D) specifically to examine the views of people with dementia. The instrument was developed through interviews with people with dementia, literature reviews, pilot testing and expert opinion.
The UNI-D holistically assesses unmet needs from the perspective of the person living with dementia across 5 domains: daily tasks, activities and hobbies, health and wellbeing, and access to support and support for dementia. In a recently published work, ninety-five people living with dementia were invited to complete the UNI-D by geriatricians, carers, support groups and respite centres. Eighty-five per cent identified at least one unmet need.
The most commonly identified unmet needs described by those living with dementia were: remembering things, finding possible treatments for dementia, understanding who to contact regarding a problem or concern, and seeing friends and family more often.
Research findings have recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The results of this research have informed the design of interventions aimed at increasing the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers by providing targeted support.
Evaluation of the impact of this work on research, policy and practice continues.