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The NCCR LIVES commits 700,000 CHF in three new projects on health and ageing

The call for project proposals on life course and vulnerability launched last January generated 42 applications and resulted in the selection of three innovative and promising research designs. The issues of health and ageing are at the core of these projects. Swiss Household Panel data will be used in two of them. One team from the German part of Switzerland is new to LIVES, while familiar LIVES members lead the other two projects.

This year the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES invited researchers working in Swiss Universities or research institutes to apply for funding 3-year projects ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 Swiss francs. Interdisciplinary projects, as well as those using longitudinal data, were especially welcome.

Forty-two projects were proposed and three received approval. The selection process was led by the Advisory Board of LIVES, an independent group of international researchers who ranked the project proposals on criteria of quality, innovation and feasibility.

The three selected projects will start next September and represent a total of 700,000 CHF. They will focus on promising research questions on the issues of ageing and health in a longitudinal perspective, and hire junior researchers to assist the project leaders. Each project is related to one of the LIVES cross-cutting issues, examining dynamics of stress and resources across life domains, over time and across analysis levels (social interactions and normative climate).

Resilience after the onset of a chronic health condition

Dr. Claudio Peter, a senior scientist at the Swiss Paraplegic Research (SPF) in Nottwil and the Department of Health Sciences and Health Policy of the University of Lucerne, will lead a project on resilience and vulnerability after the onset of a chronic health condition. Together with Dr. Gisela Michel, associate professor in the same department and deputy director of the Swiss Childhood Cancer Registry, and Dr. Nicole Bachmann, a scientific collaborator at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts - North-Western Switzerland, they will hire a PhD student and a part-time post-doc researcher.

Using Swiss Household Panel (SHP) data, they plan to observe well-being and mental health over five years after the onset of a chronic disease (stroke, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) and compare these measures with pre-event levels. The aim is to determine what factors, such as physical, social and psychological resources, influence these processes. “Understanding the adjustment process to a physical chronic health condition is a key requirement for the development of purposeful interventions aiming to foster the person’s resilience,” the team posits.

Impact of life course events on health at older age

Also on the basis of SHP data and including SHARE (Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe) data, a second project aims at investigating the influence of life course events on health trajectories at older age. The team is composed of Dr. Stéphane Cullati, Prof. Claudine Burton-Jeangros, Dr. Delphine Courvoisier, Prof. Matthias Kliegel, Dr. Rainer Gabriel, from the University of Geneva and NCCR LIVES IP208 and IP213, as well as Prof. David Blane, from the International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health at the University College London, and Dr. Idris Guessous, from the Unit of Population Epidemiology of the Geneva University Hospitals. A post-doctoral researcher will complete this interdisciplinary team of epidemiologists and gerontologists, including a medical researcher and a statistician.

Their research questions examine how childhood socioeconomic conditions and non-normative events like parental separation and job loss are associated with downward health trajectories at older age. They also want to focus on the long-term impact of family and occupational trajectories during active life on health trajectory after retirement. The hypothesis of cumulative advantages and disadvantages and the protecting effect of social mobility will be tested.

Very old persons and their old children

The third project addresses the relationships between very old persons and their aging children. Comparing two groups of parent-child dyads - one composed of parents aged over 95 and children aged over 65, the other one with parents aged 70-85 and children aged 40-60 -, the researchers posit that “older dyads face unique challenges due to the prolonged relationship and caregiving demands, and the elevated vulnerability related to both dyad members’ age and reduced resources, which place them at greater risk for poor outcomes”. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected. The Leenaards Foundation has already funded the pilot study.

Prof. Daniela Jopp, a psychologist and member of NCCR LIVES IP212 at the University of Lausanne, leads this project in collaboration with Prof. Kathrin Boerner from the University of Massachusetts Boston and Prof. Heining Cham from Fordham University. Dr. Claudia Meystre, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne, will assist them, and three students will conduct the interviews. This mixed-methods survey will notably explore contextual factors and cultural values like “familism”, i.e. strong normative feelings of allegiance with family. The expected outcome is to identify needs of new health care policies for a fast growing population.