The Wicking Centre was established in 2008 as a collaboration between the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Midwifery
Last year, following the restructuring of other parts of the Faculty, the Wicking Centre became an official ‘Faculty Centre’.
The year gone by also involved the consolidation of the Centre’s major areas of research into the ‘Care, Cause and Prevention’ of dementia. Funding success continued to grow, with over $2 million dollars of new funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the involvement of the Wicking Centre in the $28 million Commonwealth-funded Dementia Training Australia initiative, and the continuation of support from the J.O. and J.R. Wicking Trust for a further 5 years ($3.7 million). A range of other research projects were supported from funding organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation, the Motor Neuron Disease Research Institute of Australia and the Tasmania Community Fund.
Progress was also made with flagship programs such as the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project and the Teaching Aged Care Facilities Program. The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project represents a wider collaboration with the University of Tasmania in being the first study to examine whether older adults who engage in further education may build their resilience to ageing-related cognitive decline and dementia. This project is one of the longest continually funded cohort studies in Australia by the NHMRC.
Major outcomes from this study have been publications that show that the education intervention is leading to improvements in cognitive function that are potentially related to future resistance to dementia, as well as new insights into how common human gene variations linked to brain plasticity may influence specific cognitive functions in older adults.
In a collaboration with the University of Tasmania School of Medicine and the University of Melbourne, and with the generous involvement of subjects in the study, we established a fibroblast and adult stem cell bank from over 150 participants of the Healthy Brain Project. These adult stem cells can be converted into neural cells which will aid a number of studies examining gene activity, brain plasticity and neurodegenerative disease.
The Teaching Aged Care Facilities program also expanded nationally in 2016, providing substantial engagement of a broad variety of health care students inter-professional placements in residential facilities. This initiative has been shown to positively influence student attitudes toward working in aged care, and also helps to establish a high-performance culture within residential facilities that is capable of supporting evidence-based aged care practice. In this regard, the program also involves a substantial research underpinning, generating the evidence required to ensure that this form of placement is of the highest quality.
2016 was also a landmark year for educational developments in the Wicking Centre. We passed the milestone of a hundred thousand participants in our Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in dementia. This included the 5th iteration of the Understanding Dementia MOOC, which was recognised by Class Central as in the top 50 online short courses in the world (of over 6,000) based on user ratings, and also the number 1 ranked course in the health and medical category. In 2016, we also launched the new Preventing Dementia MOOC, which focusses on the major risk factors for dementia, as well as the evidence for the potential to modify individual risk at different stages of life.
In 2016, a further landmark was the graduation of the first cohort of Bachelor of Dementia Care students, in addition to a large number of Diploma and Associate Degree graduates.
Many of our graduates are active in the aged care sector, and have started to apply their learning to improving the lives of people with dementia.
At the end of the year, the Wicking Centre received a national ‘Award for Programs that Enhance Learning’ at the 2016 Australian Awards for University Teaching in Canberra for the overall set of educational offerings in dementia.
In outreach activities, the Wicking Centre ran a Public Forum, ‘Making a Connection with Dementia, to bring together people with dementia, their families, carers and others with an interest in dementia as part of Dementia Awareness Month in September. The end of the year also saw the Wicking Centre hosting the annual meeting of the Australian Neurotrauma Symposium, which had a particular focus on the link between traumatic brain injury and dementia.
We look forward to this year and all the opportunities it will provide for Wicking to further grow what it is already doing so well – worldwide.
Last week saw the official announcement of $3.7 million in funding from the Wicking Trust towards the major expansion of our dementia education and research on the impact of our MOOCs.
The funding boost will provide a valuable opportunity to build on the national and global success of the Wicking Centre’s educational programs in dementia, which aim to reach 400,000 more people in Australia and over a million more globally, over the next five years.
The progress and success of the Wicking Centre is based on a multidisciplinary team of academic and professional staff committed to high quality education and research, and also to having a positive influence on the lives of people with dementia.