Getting to know Associate Professor Kim Delbaere

Kim Delbaere3Healthy ageing is contingent upon a variety of factors; physical, psychological and cognitive health and ability are some of the areas that can cumulatively affect the way we age. Professor Kim Delbaere, a Principal Research Scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), and an Associate Professor at UNSW, upholds her commitment to researching these areas collectively, highlighting their interrelation and pertinence to the aging individual.

With a focus on falls prevention, Professor Delbaere’s research is multifaceted, combining areas from physiotherapy and neuroscience through to software engineering. With a comprehensive, multidimensional approach, Professor Delbaere is committed to helping individuals and society better understand the causes of falls and similar injuries, ultimately aiding in their prevention as well as understanding what is and isn’t normal. She will be a keynote speaker at ACA’s Annual Conference in Hobart this October delivering her session titled: ‘Hallmarks and new frontiers in falls research: an applied neuroscience perspective’.

When it comes to leadership in the field, Professor Delbaere cites Canada as an exemplar of a societal, and governmental, commitment to healthy ageing. Its AGE-WELL network is demonstrative to the country’s dedication to, and acknowledgement of, its ageing population. Underpinned by solid policy, innovation, strategy and research, the network focuses on utilising engagement and technology to better support the life quality and lifestyle choices of its people.1 She applauds Australia’s developments in the field and believes the neighbouring model can help guide us to even further success in the field.

Professor Delbaere emphasises the importance of international collaboration, citing the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) as a prime example of this. The partnership’s aim is to leverage knowledge and skills of professionals across the EU in order to deliver the best research, outcomes, innovation and policy in the field of ageing, for the betterment of the European population.2  

As the aforementioned ventures are only in their formative years, the future outlook is extremely optimistic. Furthermore, the global influence of these regions is likely to be significant and the capacity for similar programs and partnerships appears unequivocally abundant.

In addition to the abovementioned frameworks, it is essential that we, as individuals, adjust to the technological developments around us and leverage them to our advantage. Professor Delbaere discusses this further, suggesting the fundamental nature of technology in aged-based research. She acknowledges smartphones as a key advancement for researching individuals in their natural environments and discusses how they now act as a substitution for specialised equipment. Such devices more accurately track activity than previous clinically based methods.

All these things that we used to have equipment for as part of our research, we’re starting to just use phones…now you just put an app on a person’s phone and that’s it, you’ve got all the same data and better. Professor Delbaere highlights the abovementioned further, discussing the ease of translating information from mobile devices. Such technological functions and continual advancements allow researchers to gain accurate information that is representative of the real individual; “we can’t just get that from having a person in [a] clinic”, she added.

They’ve even got gyroscopes in there which would allow you to know when a person is doing a turn… we know when people are doing stairs, we know when they are getting out of a chair and how quickly, or vigorously they are doing that. Such information is essential to the continual developments we see in the field. Now information is more accurate and accessible than ever before. These developments not only help us understand the aging process, but they help us implement measures to inhibit mental and physical decline and prevent previously commonplace injuries.

Professor Delbaere discusses the pertinence of technology with reference to recent trials utilising iPads for exercise intervention. The trials were fully self-managed, in-home by the individuals who were between 70-94 years old. “They’re older people, lots of them have not used technology in this way”, she said with positivity over the trial. “People are really ready to embrace technology”, she added, further highlighting technology’s significance within the field.

Not only does technology help in stimulating physical activity, but it also provides engagement, in turn, fostering motivation and positive mental health, facets integral to healthy ageing. If we combine the benefits afforded by the contemporary era with the frameworks of leading nations such as Canada, we will have an infallible recipe for the success, health and happiness of ageing Australians.

Join us in celebrating 'Positive Ageing’ at ACA’s Annual Conference in Hobart, 20-21 October 2018. For more information and to register visit the Conference Website.