Nursing professor wins $2.2M research grant


Rebecca Davis. Courtesy GVSU

An area university nursing professor has won a $2.2 million grant to research wayfinding of dementia and Alzheimer's patients.

Rebecca Davis, of Kirkhof College of Nursing at Grand Valley State University, won the grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging to conduct an intervention study over five years, testing if visual cues will help within an assisted living or long-term care facility residents find their way through confusing hallways.

The intervention study will be conducted with nearly 140 patients in 12 long-term care facilities in West Michigan and Cleveland.

“Six times over a year, they will be asked to find their way to certain places within their community,” she said.

Some facilities will have enhanced signs and decorative elements, such as a large painting. Others will incorporate signage and education, and a control group will have no enhancements.

For residents with dementia, not remembering how to get to the dining hall, for example, creates feelings of anxiety and frustration, and can cause them to limit the number of areas where they spend their time.

“Staff at facilities recognize it as a huge problem, so they are very willing to participate in this study and see if their residents improve,” Davis said.

“One question we have is if we intervene with cues and education, will their wayfinding abilities get better or will they stay the same?”

This is the first time a GVSU researcher has secured this institute’s R01 funding, which GVSU said is the “most prestigious.”

Davis said R01 funding is desirable for clinical trials like this due to the “complexity of the study.”

“We’re really pleased to receive this. It’s a very different study on how environmental changes can influence behavior, and it is in line with what nurses and other health care workers do to improve the quality of life for patients with dementia,” she said.

In 2013, Davis earned an NIH grant to conduct a study with senior citizens, some with Alzheimer's disease, to test how they found their way using a virtual reality environment and eye-tracking goggles. Her initial study began in 2008 and was funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

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