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Q&A with Dawn Skelton

Dawn A. Skelton, PhD, is a reader/associate professor in ageing and health at Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow, Scotland. Her main interests lie in the prevention of dependence and the prevention of falls. She is a commissioned author for the World Health Organization Health Evidence Network, the Department of Health, and the scientific advisor for the Society for Physical Activity and the Prevention of Osteoporosis, Falls and Fractures among others.

Why did you choose a career in aging and physical activity?

Almost by accident, really. I completed my first degree (Human Sciences) and was looking to do research when my University mentor mentioned that a colleague of hers was looking for a PhD student to work on a project involving strength training in older people. As I have always had an affinity for older people (I did voluntary work in a nursing home when I was younger), I was interested and so went for the interview. I have never looked back! In fact, I was lucky enough to have three grandparents still alive when I was in my twenties - two were fairly active and had a much better quality of life than the one who was not - so they spurred me on to find out what activity is best and how to engage people when they really do not see the point of it all.

Would you please describe your job at Glasgow Caledonian University?

I am a reader in Ageing and Health and part of a research consortium of seven universities in the west of Scotland that want to promote research capacity amongst allied health professionals (physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses etc). To this aim, I chase clinicians all the time to do more than audit and work towards research excellence in their work. I have a varied workload, from participating in systematic reviews (Cochrane and Joanna Briggs Institute) to supervising PhD and master’s students to working on large RCTs and smaller clinical audits and evaluations. At the moment I am also preoccupied with co-organising the 8th World Congress on Active Ageing to be hosted here in Glasgow in 2012.

Would you please describe your work with World Health Organization Health Evidence Network?

In 2003 I started work as the scientific co-ordinator for ProFaNE (Prevention of Falls Network Europe). This was a European community-funded network of clinicians and reseachers with an interest in falls prevention. As part of this work we were gathering all available evidence on falls prevention so that gaps in evidence and work on best practice could be disseminated. Professor Chris Todd, director of ProFaNE, was approached by the World Health Organisation Health Evidence Network to produce a paper on falls prevention and so we co-authored a review. It went beyond information gained from randomised controlled trials (e.g., Cochrane Reviews) and was meant to help policy makers in terms of implementation of best practice.

You co-developed the United Kingdom’s only national, accredited specialist exercise training course for exercise in the prevention of falls. Would you please describe the program?

Back in 1999, colleagues Susie Dinan and Bob Laventure and myself decided we were fed up with all this evidence being available to practitioners but in practice many older people were still being subjected to seated classes with lots of flexibility work and no strength or balance components! I had been part of three large trials looking at strength training, functional strength training, and multimodal strength and balance training and had seen the huge impact in terms of rejuvenation of lost strength and balance and reductions in falls. The trouble was, in practice, we were not seeing these exercises out there in the real world. So, Susie, Bob, and myself approached the Department of Health (UK) for a grant to develop training that could be rolled out nationally.

Susie Dinan had previously developed courses and was really the one to ensure we met national guidance on content, length, and accreditation. This course has now been running for 10 years and we have trained more than 3000 instructors (from the health and exercise world). What is more exciting is that a recent Department of Health publication suggests that all healthcare organisations working with fallers in terms of exercise to prevent or manage falls should do this course. This course sits on the National Skills Active standards, is recognised by the Register of Exercise Professionals, endorsed by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, and ensures that fallers across the UK all receive the same evidence-based programme of exercises, progression, and tailoring to suit their needs and abilities.

What is the best part about your job?

Most definitely the variety and the travel! I do enjoy travelling the world to conferences and I enjoy – indeed, I am passionate about - enthusing others into research with older people.

What has been the most rewarding experience of your career, and why?

I have had many rewarding experiences - from awards, to being asked to co-author documents for the WHO and the Department of Health. But the most rewarding experience of my career is when older people who have been involved in my research keep in contact and talk about how the experience (of exercise) has transformed their lives. Working with older people is extremely rewarding.

Based on your experience, what is the most significant advancement in your field?

Within the UK, ensuring that research evidence is translated into real life practice, through first ensuring translational research (through ensuring that an exercise programme is implementable in different settings) and then in terms of translational practice (training courses and dissemination). In other words, the shift from "laboratory based" research to "real-life" research.

Learn more about members of the Active Aging Community Center Steering Committee.

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The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of a 9-month group exercise intervention (FaME), compared with a control intervention on bone mineral density (BMD) of the lumbar spine and hip.

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