Cape Breton University Awarded Funding to Support Healthy Aging Research

Cape Breton University is working with communities across Cape Breton to offer programs for people at risk or living with dementia as well as their caregivers, backed by a significant investment of close to $1 million from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The project, Communities and Healthy Aging, builds on evidence that early interventions have benefits for those living with or at risk of dementia. The primary focus is to develop and offer evidence-based, culturally sensitive and customized programs that feature exercise, social and music activities in five semi-rural and rural communities. While there is a research connection to the funding, the project is expected to result in ongoing community programs to support healthy aging.

Dr. Tanya Brann-Barrett, CBU’s Associate Vice-President of Academic and Research, says the objective of project is to explore accessible programs with a focus on the modifiable risks associated with dementia. It aligns with the mandate of CBU’s Centre of Excellence for Healthy Aging, targeting dementia prevention. Dr. Brann-Barrett says the evidence is out there when it comes to prevention. “The study of dementia has demonstrated that exercise, nutrition and socialization are three key areas linked to risk reduction,” says Dr. Brann-Barrett. “The project will pay particular attention to challenges people may experience outside larger metropolitan areas when it comes to accessing programs to support healthy aging for themselves and their loved ones.”

Over the next four years, the project will work with five Cape Breton communities, collaborating with local residents for input on how to best support healthy aging and to deliver community-based actions. “The conversations taking place in local communities include guidance on when and where programs might be offered, accessibility challenges to consider, cultural traditions and influences and creative interests,” explains Dr. Brann-Barrett. “For example, music is an integral part of the diverse cultures across Cape Breton Island, but each program will be adapted to musical traditions unique to each community.”

This program has already begun in Judique, as well as Whitney Pier, with Cheticamp and Glace Bay to be added during the course of the project. Julie Francis, Registered Nurse and L’nu Health Chair in CBU’s Unama’ki College, is working with the project team to help build relationships with Indigenous community members to determine if and how they may wish to be involved. The program welcomes people in those communities aged 55 and up, at risk of dementia, living with dementia or those serving as caregivers. They will be invited to participate in group activities, including physical exercise, art and music programs customized to linguistic and cultural considerations. Dr. Brann-Barrett says program details will differ based on input from community partners.

A key focus of this project is to build capacity within communities to ensure programming can continue after official funding has ended. This will be accomplished, in part, by a train-the-trainer model, which will give life and longevity to each program. Dr. Brann-Barrett says CBU has a depth of experience working within communities and expects to inform national health programs, with the experience of working in culturally and geographically distinct communities. “We have an opportunity to contribute our strengths in community-engaged research to support healthy aging in our own communities and beyond,” says Dr. Brann-Barrett. “CBU is dedicated to actions that support healthy communities and we are excited for this opportunity to make a difference.”


For more information about Communities and Healthy Aging, email: