Research to find ways to improve frail older patients’ strength after a period in hospital will be carried out at the University of Cambridge by Addenbrooke’s Hospital physiotherapist, Peter Hartley, pictured above.
After a period of hospitalisation, older people face substantial risks of leaving with new disabilities and dependencies that developed during their stay in hospital. Around 30% of older people need more help with daily living after a stay in an acute medical ward. Loss of muscle strength often comes before changes in people’s ability to carry out their daily activities, but is largely unrecognised and unmeasured. In frail patients in particular, new muscle weakness is likely to have severe consequences. For instance, loss of strength may determine whether a person can still rise from a chair unaided. Exercise interventions have been shown in different patient populations to protect muscle strength and improve people’s ability to carry out daily activities after hospitalisation.
Peter Hartley, Physiotherapy Team Lead in the Department of Medicine for the Elderly at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, will carry out a three year programme of research with older patients at Addenbrookes Hospital, thanks to his success in winning the highly competitive Dunhill Medical Trust Research Training Fellowship award. The award will enable him to begin a PhD at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge in October 2017.
The research will focus on changes in muscle strength for frail older patients during their time in hospital and associated changes in patients’ mobility. Those most at risk of loss of muscle strength will be identified and an exercise intervention aimed at preventing loss of strength will be tested. Peter explained how the project developed from his clinical role: “I began working with Dr Romero-Ortuno and members of the physiotherapy team in January 2015, investigating functional decline in hospitalised older, frail, medical patients.The research questions have very much developed from challenges I experience in my clinical work. I will conduct the research on the same wards that I currently work on.”
The big hope is that the work will lead to changes in clinical practice that will prevent many older people experiencing loss of strength and function associated with an acute admission to hospital
– Peter Hartley, Physiotherapy Team Lead, Department of Medicine for the Elderly, Addenbrooke’s Hospital
Peter said: “Many, many people have been very helpful and inspirational, too many to list in full. I learnt a lot from Professor Valerie Pomeroy and her colleagues at the University of East Anglia. My soon to be PhD supervisors Professor Christi Deaton, Dr Roman Romero-Ortuno and Dr Ian Wellwood have provided so much support and teaching. The Addenbrooke’s Physiotherapy Department have been supporting me for many years to get to this stage; and the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) and the Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) were very generous in giving me an internal research training fellowship, which allowed me to create a very competitive application.”
Professor Christi Deaton, Florence Nightingale Foundation Professor of Clinical Nursing Research, said: “Peter’s work has important implications for the care of hospitalised older patients. Preventing loss of muscle strength and functional decline could make a difference between a patient returning to independent living at discharge or needing greater support or even residential care. The Department of Medicine for the Elderly (DME) has goals of improving care and preventing harm to this vulnerable population, and Peter’s research will help to take this forward. We are very grateful to the support from DME and the Cambridge BRC/ACT internal research fellowship programme for supporting Peter in developing this competitive application.”
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Media contact: Lucy Lloyd