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Published: 21 Jun, 2022

Research strengthens the quality of life of older people

PROFILE The right training can increase function and reduce the risk of fall injuries among older people. Now Umeå researcher Annika Toots and her research team want to develop a program for motor-cognitive training that older people can use themselves.

Text: Bertholof Brännström

Annika Toots is a physiotherapist and associate professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation at Umeå University.  Both her dissertation, completed in 2016, and her research work thereafter have focused on the promotion of health and well-being in older people.

"It's a very nice group to work with. They are often so positive and give so much back. I enjoy their company," Annika says.

"Then , of course, there's a lot to do to help them have a better life. This is precisely what our studies and research are aimed at.”

Physiotherapist in London

However, the road to university and research was winding. After a few years as an assistant nurse – first in her hometown of Umeå, then in Stockholm – she fell in love and ended up 21-year-old in the world city of London where she trained as a physiotherapist.

But soon she wanted to return to Umeå.

"We had two young children and the commute made the days very long in London. My British husband was a bit skeptical but in 2004 we moved here.”

Got hooked on research among older people

A few temporal positions and another child later, Annika Toots came into contact with Professor Yngve Gustafsson at the Geriatric Centre, where she soon became involved in the Umeå 85+/GERDA study, a database focusing on ageing and the life situation of older people.

"That's when I got hooked on research among older people. It was so positive with all the meetings and it attracted me to continue,” says Annika.

high intensity involves trying to overload during exercise

The work in the GERDA study led to the so-called UMDEX study where Annika investigated whether high-intensity functional exercise could have an effects in people with dementia.

"Functional exercise means that you train what you want to improve. Exercises are similar to movements that you do in everyday life, such as climbing stairs, taking steps to the side, turning around. High intensity involves trying to overload during exercise, usually with weights, to increase the effect.”
The UMDEX study showed that this form of functional exercise could both improve functions in some people with dementia, and also slow down the deterioration in ADL, meaning activities in daily life.

Data from the UMDEX study and the GERDA study formed the backbone of Annika Toots doctoral thesis.

Program for motor-cognitive training

Now Annika and her research colleagues want to move forward to develop a user-friendly program for motor-cognitive training. The study is focused on older people with an increased risk of falling and who find it difficult to do several things at the same time.

"We believe that people who, for example, walk slower or stop completely when they are about to talk, are at a higher risk of falling. Now, together with them and some physiotherapists, we want to develop exercises that they themselves can and want to do at home.

The aim is that the study will eventually result in a useful exercise program that physiotherapists can use clinically.

Pilot study on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Alongside this project, Annika Toots is also involved in a pilot study to see if people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, can be helped by physical exercise.

"I was together with people with COPD, among others, involved in developing an e-health tool, "My COPD", which is located on 1177 Vårdguiden. The idea is that people with COPD through the tool report back to the program so that the physiotherapist can adjust the exercises,” Annika says

The pilot study, which is currently underway, will then be followed up with a larger, so-called randomized controlled multicenter study.

More about Annika Toots

Family: Husband Simon, children Maia, Hannah and Johannes

Comes from: Umeå

Lives: Röbäck

Driving me in work: Curiosity

Inspires me: My colleagues

Best relaxation: A good book, mushroom and berry picking, cross country running in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. As well as spending time with family