CFN Fellow Megan Racey’s work aims to provide nutrition and physical activity recommendations for older adults living with frailty

September 9, 2020

Hi, I’m Megan Racey. I’m a Canadian Frailty Network Post-Doctoral Fellow at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. My research focuses on combining existing literature and evidence (through systematic reviews and meta-analyses) to inform nutrition and physical activity recommendations for older adults living with frailty. These recommendations (or clinical practice guidelines) are being developed by CFN and will be used by healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and other researchers. My fellowship is also supported by the McMaster Institute for Research in Aging (MIRA) and the McMaster Evidence Review and Synthesis Team (MERST). Together, their support and research funds have provided me with the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team and project Steering Committee which has expanded my understanding of how frailty impacts older adults, their caregivers, and various parts of the healthcare sector. The unique perspectives of this group encourage a new way of thinking about problems and help create a shared understanding in a complex and diverse field.

My education and research experience has always focused on creating impact from research and translating research results into real-world contexts. Through my undergraduate studies, I always found community-based work fascinating as I not only appreciated the learnings as a student researcher, but also the hands-on and direct impact research can have when it is done with the community of interest. My passion for this type of research continued in my Master of Science research where I worked directly with older adults in long-term care homes to share research and learn from them about what is important to make a difference in their nutrition and health. Following my PhD, where I worked with adolescents to teach them about foods for health, I have returned to research the older adult population and create clear messages from my work which we hope will have an impact on the health and quality of life for older adults living with frailty.

Through my post-doctoral research, I have learned a great deal about our aging Canadian population and the limitations in our healthcare system that make addressing the health problems of older adults challenging. Currently, our healthcare system is set up to deal with illnesses based on single body systems and diseases (such as a heart problem or broken bone), not the complex problems that involve many parts and functions of our body in those living with frailty (someone with frailty may have many health conditions that together, limit their ability to function daily). When you are frail, your body does not have the ability to cope with minor illnesses that would normally have minimal impact if you were healthy. Older adults living with frailty may experience large declines in health from illnesses such as the flu or adverse events like falls and are more likely to be hospitalized, need long term care, or die. Frailty is also hard to diagnose because it is not well understood by doctors, nurses, or other healthcare professionals and involves a collection of tests that are time consuming to complete. Even though research shows there is a benefit when older adults eat a healthy diet and get enough physical activity, there is a gap in this research for preventing and managing frailty among older adults. For example, current physical activity guidelines for seniors may be too advanced or too intense for a more frail population and puts them at risk for falls or other injuries. Therefore, my research will provide specific nutrition and physical activity recommendations to understand and treat frailty within the older adult population.

Working with older adults continues to grow and expand my abilities to communicate research to different groups. It has also allowed me a greater appreciation for our aging population and challenged me to see ways this work can impact the daily lives of older adults.