Projects from the School of Health Sciences

There are a number of projects with Researchers from the School of Health Sciences within the following Research Concentrations:


Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity

ARENA4: Establishing optimal polling frequency and content for the use of EMA tools

Supervisors: Dr Francois Fraysse, A/Prof Marie Williams

Activity patterns and symptoms in everyday life are assessed either in real time (Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA)) or by asking people to recall activities over specified time periods (average over a day, week, month).   Newer forms of EMA use customizable smartphone apps which generate pop-up notifications at set time intervals and invite respondents to answer a series of questions (e.g current activity, level of sensations /symptoms). Whether smartphone based EMA reduces/increases participant burden is unclear. A tradeoff needs to be made between sufficiently frequent polling to ensure good time resolution, and reducing participant burden leading to drop-out / discouragement. The goal of the present project is to establish the optimal polling rate (time interval between notifications) as well as the optimal number of questions asked with each notification, related to the use of EMA mobile app tools. These optimal parameters will allow to collect as much information as possible while at the same time minimising the participant burden, to avoid participant dropout.

The student will require a healthy obsession with apps.

ARENA5-1: Establishing optimal polling frequency and content for the use of EMA tools

Supervisors: Dr Alison Hill, Prof Jon Buckley, A/Prof Alison Coates, Dr Ashleigh Smith

The proposed study is part of a 16-week (2 x 8 week phases) randomized, controlled cross-over feasibility study aiming to investigate whether Australian children will consume 30g almonds on 5 days per week for 8 weeks and have cognitive function tested on 5 occasions. 

To fit with the honours timeline the honours student would be involved in data collection during the first phase, washout and the start of phase 2. The student will develop skills in collecting dietary and cognitive data from children and setting up a feasibility study.

The project would suit a student interested in nutrition and cognition. The student will be part of a clinical trial and will have the opportunity to work with a large collaborative team of researchers across two research centres and schools (Health Sciences and Pharmacy and Medical Sciences).

ARENA5-2: Development and evaluation of a research tool for assessing work and lesiure in assistance dogs

Supervisors: Dr Carmel Nottle, Dr Janette Young

Assistance Dogs are protected under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) as animals that are trained to assist a person with a disability to alleviate the effect of the disability.  While they are considered to be an assistive device the same as a wheelchair, cane or hearing aids, they are also a sentient being with feelings and needs.  As a result the health and welfare of the Assistance Dog does need to be considered along with the needs of the handler they are assisting.  In people the concept of work-life balance is often researched in terms of burn-out, quality of life and productivity but this area is not often considered in relation to working animals such as Assistance Dogs.  This project aims to develop and pilot a research quality tool that will allow for assessment of work and leisure time in Assistance Dogs as well as capturing the type of leisure performed.  

The student will be advanteged if they have a basic understanding of the basic difference between quantitative and qualitative research

ARENA5-3: More than dog walking: pets as physical activity and social connection facilitators in the lives of older people

Supervisors: Dr Janette Young, Dr Edoardo Rosso, Dr Richard McGrath

There is evidence that pets have a ‘social catalyst role’ within communities (Woods et al 2017) and that dog ownership specifically might increase physical activity in older persons (Toohey et al 2013). However there is controversy as to the health creating benefits of pets as it is not possible to run randomised control trials on naturally occurring social phenomenon (Saunders et al 2017). The existence of both non-pet and pet-friendly aged communities in the ECH aged community living model offers the chance to track the physical activity levels and social engagement of people in the two communities across three groups, pet owners, non-pet owners living in pet friendly communities, and non-pet owners in no-pet communities. The aim of this trial project is to track the level of physical activity and social engagement that each of these groups of residents records via pedometers and social contact diaries/charts to see if it is possible to support the hypotheses that pet ownership facilitates higher levels of physical activity in pet owners; and higher levels of social engagement in pet owners and non-owners in pet-friendly communities.

The student will require to have an interest in quantitative and qualitative research tools and information

ARENA5-4: Older people and pet relinquishment - exploring the non-enthanizing informal pet rescue and rehoming sector

Supervisors: Dr Janette Young, Dr Carmel Nottle

As people age they are often forced to leave their own homes to enter supportive accommodation or downside into ‘retirement style’ villages.  This often requires relinquishment of their pet(s). Accommodation changes by older people can be extremely distressful and finding ways of reducing key stressors such as that of “needing” to euthanize a non-human companion, has the potential to improve their quality of life at this time. There are a number of small independent entities who focus on rehoming the pets of older people (see for example https://www.facebook.com/HollysSanctuaryDogs). This project focusses on exploring this potential resource base.  Involvement in this study will allow the student to develop and enhance qualitative research skills of online ethnography including observation and data collection (Postill & Pink 2012) interviewing, academic writing, liaison with external stakeholders, and project management.

The student will require a basic understanding of the core differences between qualitative and quantitative research

ARENA5-5: Using mixed reality and holographic technologies (iHealth) for delivery of smoking cessation treatment among patients admitted to hospital with tobacco-related illnesses

Supervisors: A/Prof Kristin Carson-Chahhoud, Dr Ross Smith, Prof Adrian Esterman

Technological innovation is imperative for the future success of healthcare delivery, regardless of discipline. This study will be one of the first studies world-wide to establish the evidence-base for novel iHealth technologies (namely augmented reality, virtual reality and holographic technology) for delivery of smoking cessation education for smokers admitted to hospital with tobacco related illnesses. Tobacco use continues to be one of the leading causes of preventable mortality and morbidity globally, costing the health system billions of dollars each year. Hospitalisation offers an opportunistic environment for smoking intervention, with the potential for a real-world impact in the lives of individuals as well as a population level. iHealth tools can address issues of poor health literacy and can be personalised based on age and gender. Students will gain skills in creating technological resources, conducting independent research, writing publications and will make practical contributions to the evidence base for asthma management.

ARENA5-6: Establishing optimal polling frequency and content for the use of EMA tools

Supervisors: A/Prof Kristin Carson-Chahhoud, Dr Ross Smith, Prof Adrian Esterman

Technological innovation is imperative for the future success of healthcare delivery, regardless of discipline. This study will be one of the first studies world-wide to establish the evidence-base for novel iHealth technologies (namely augmented reality, virtual reality and holographic technology) for delivery of cognitive and behavioural therapy (CBT) to manage anxiety among young people with asthma. Asthma and mental health disorders are two of the biggest health threats facing Australian youth today. Half of young people with asthma have co-morbid anxiety/depression primarily due to fear of exacerbations, double the rate in the wider community, contributing to functional impairment and preventable hospitalisation and mortality. iHealth tools can address issues of poor health literacy and can be personalised based on age and gender. Students will gain skills in creating technological resources, conducting independent research, writing publications and will make practical contributions to the evidence base for asthma management.

ARENA8: Establishing optimal polling frequency and content for the use of EMA tools

Supervisors: Dr Jocelyn Kernot, Dr Angela Berndt, A/Prof Carol Maher

One in five Australians will experience some form of mental illness each year, with mental illness being the third leading cause of disability burden in Australia. The aim of health promotion is to increase people’s ability to take control of their own health and wellbeing. While there are many opportunities available within the community to improve our physical health it can be more difficult to find ways of improving our mental health and wellbeing.  

Over recent years a number of websites and apps have been created which provide information and activities that can assist with improving mental wellbeing but they have limited opportunities for social interaction and support. Social networking sites such as Facebook are hugely popular and offer an avenue for social connectedness.

A mental health and wellbeing program delivered via a Facebook group is a novel way of giving people the opportunity to take control of their own health and wellbeing. The UniSA Facebook wellbeing program will focus on prevention (rather than targeting those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness) and will include physical activity, virtual community, occupation based and positive psychology strategies (e.g. mindfulness)

Given the novelty of this approach this honours research study will explore the feasibility of delivering a mental wellbeing program via a Facebook group.

It would be preferable that the student is an active facebook who has had experience using facebook groups, good IT skills and an interest in mental wellbeing

ARENA11: The development of a framework to guide objective assessment of cardiovascular health and function for clinical exercise services: A Delphi Study.

Supervisors: Dr Kade Davison, A/Prof Andrew Maiorana

Clinical decision making using the best available evidence is a critical component of any health care practice. Clinicians need to make decisions about what to measure to best inform their intervention. Whilst there is good evidence for the role of exercise in managing cardiovascular health and function, there is almost no evidence to support the process of clinical assessment and decision making. This study aims to convene a group of suitably qualified experts to develop a common framework to inform objective assessment of cardiovascular health and function. In the absence of real evidence this will allow educators and clinicians to utilise the collective experience and insights of leading practitioner and clinical leaders. 

This project would suit an accredited exercise physiologist with a keen interest in cardiovascular health and disease and evidence based practice.

ARENA14: Comparing two different spirometers for use in assessing lung function in professional metropolitan firefighters

Supervisors: Dr Kylie Johnston, Prof Alan Crockett, Flynn Slattery

Firefighters are at risk of developing respiratory disorders as a result of their regular exposure to smoke. The lung function of South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (SAMFS) firefighters is currently being monitored in a longitudinal study by UniSA that commenced in 2007.

Prior to the next stage of data collection, scheduled for 2019, there is a desire to update the lung function testing equipment to a more modern and portable spirometer. To ensure this switch is valid, we would need to determine if there is a difference between measurements made by the two spirometers. 

The proposed honours study would involve performing lung function tests on approximately 25-30 full-time professional SAMFS firefighters and/or members of the general public, using both spirometers, approximately 30 mins apart. Differences between the two instruments would then be compared.

This project provides a chance to contribute to this important continuing occupational health study in SA professional firefighters.

ARENA23: The importance of children’s voice: What do kids really think about physical activity?

Supervisors: Dr Tasha Schranz, Dr Gisela Van Kessel, Verity Booth

Active Healthy Kids Australia (AHKA) will ask Australian kids the What Why, Where, How and Who of physical activity through an Online Kids Physical Activity Survey that will be developed with the assistance of the AHKA Youth Advisory Council (YAC). This project will look to explore and interpret the answers captured by the survey such that the perceptions, motivations, understandings and behaviours of Australian children and young people with regards to physical activity and physical activity participation are better understood. Exploration of the survey responses will be done via qualitative analysis techniques in addition to consultation with the AHKA YAC for further interpretation and confirmation of findings. 

ARENA26: Full body kinematic model design for baseball pitch and ball flight to be used in Augmented Reality: Proof of concept

Supervisors: Dr Robert Crowther, Dr Ross Smith, Dr Francois Fraysse

This project involves developing, testing and comparing a full body kinematic model for the baseball pitch task and baseball flight to be used in an Augmented Reality (AR) environment. Recently attention in artificial environments has shifted from virtual reality to AR due to developments in AR technology, in particular the Microsoft HoloLens. AR may provide efficiency in skill learning by providing visual representations in real world e.g. you can see a baseball pitch while at home. To develop such a visual representation a real-world capture of the pitchers’ angular kinematics during different pitches as well as the ball flight path need to be digitally captured, analysed and compared. This project is linked with the Wearable Computer Lab (School of Technology and Mathematical Sciences) where a potential Honours student from the Wearable Computer Lab under the supervision of Dr Ross Smith will take the completed kinematic data and develop a visual representation of the different baseball pitches and ball flight paths in an AR environment. 

ARENA33: A feasibility study to determine whether Australian children aged 8-12 years will eat almonds for 8 weeks and the impact on cognitive performance

Supervisors: A/Prof Alison Coates, Dr Alison Hill, Prof Jon Buckley, Dr Ashleigh Smith

The proposed study is part of a 16-week (2 x 8 week phases) randomized, controlled cross-over feasibility study aiming to firstly investigate whether Australian children will consume 30g almonds on 5 days per week for 8 weeks and have cognitive function tested on 5 occasions.  As part of the larger project we will also assess cognitive function to determine an effect size for future studies.

To fit with the honours timeline the honours student would be involved in data collection during the first phase, washout and the start of phase 2. The student will develop skills in primary data collection from children and setting up a feasibility study.

The project would suit a student interested in nutrition and cognition. The student will be part of a clinical trial and will have the opportunity to work with a large collaborative team of researchers across two research centres and schools.

The potential student must have an interest in nutrition and cognitive function is important for this project. The student will need to obtain clearance to be able to work with children.  

ARENA34: Exploring the developmental history of female Australian rules football players

Supervisors: Dr Robert Crowther, Brad Keller, Dr Carl Woods

Expertise is hard to attain in all areas, particularly within the sporting domain. Sports scientists have identified a number of important factors that contribute to athletes excelling in a variety of sports. Training history (volume and type), specialisation/diversification, familial background and environmental factors have all been recognised as contributing to sporting expertise. Although Australian rules football has been long established at a local level for female players, it was only recently that an elite pathway was created, with the Australian Football League (AFL) forming the AFL Women’s (AFLW) competition in 2017. Due to the infancy of the sport at an elite level it is hypothesised that successful female players would have diverse backgrounds and developmental pathways. The proposed project will investigate the developmental history and background of female Australian rules football players. This project will be an industry based honours project in conjunction with Glenelg Football Club (SANFL).

The student must have a Bachelor of Human Movement degree or a similar degree. 


Body in Mind 

N/A


International Centre for Allied Health Evidence

N/A


Centre for Population Health Research

CPHR2: Vitamin D and type 1 diabetes: genetic evidence for a casual association

Supervisors: Dr Catherine Paquet, Dr Ashleigh Smith, Dr Ross Smith, Dr Matthew Haren

There is evidence to suggest that adequate vitamin D intakes can help to prevent type 1 diabetes. This association is supported by evidence from in vitro and animal experiments,  as well as ecological correlations and observational studies in humans. However, clinical trials, which are required to demonstrate a causal effect of vitamin D on type 1 diabetes risk, are still lacking. This project will use ‘Mendelian Randomisation’, which is also called the nature’s randomised trial, to examine evidence for a causal effect of vitamin D on type 1 diabetes. In MR, we use genetic variations as a proxy indicators for differences in circulating vitamin D concentrations. This will allow us to overcome many of the methodological problems affecting other types of observational studies, allowing us to obtain independent evidence for true effects of vitamin D on type 1 diabetes. 

This project is well suited for a high performing student who enjoys writing and who is considering post-graduate studies. The student will learn skills both in systematic reviews and data analyses. She/he will be guided through the project, data analyses and reporting with a view of producing at least one high quality scientific publication. 

CPHR5-1: Dissecting the comorbidity between neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases using genome-wide genetic data in diverse populations

Supervisors: Dr Beben Benyamin, Dr Hong Lee, Prof Elina Hypponen

Some neurodegenerative diseases share their clinical and pathological features with other neurodegenerative or psychiatric conditions. For example, motor neuron disease (MND) has been shown to be associated with psychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia. However, due to limited data, the extent to which the comorbidity between all neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases have not been completely evaluated. Furthermore, past studies have been mostly conducted in European ancestry populations. It is not clear whether similar patterns also apply to other populations. We now have genome-wide association data on many of these diseases, which allows us to examine patterns of comorbidity. In addition, with emerging data on populations from non-European ancestry, we can start to answer the questions of transferability across different ethnicities.

The aim of the project is to dissect the shared genetic architecture between neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases using genome-wide association data and to evaluate the transferability of the findings from Europeans into other populations.

Understanding the patterns of comorbidity between these diseases may have important implications for disease management. For example, the treatment of one disease may be useful for other diseases. It is also important to evaluate whether the genomic findings, which are mostly based on studies done in Europeans, can also apply to other populations, as this will allow us to share the benefits of genomic medicine across different ethnicities.  

Students will learn advanced statistical methods based on genomic information to understand the comorbidity between diseases. 

CPHR5-2: Does coffee cause cancer

Supervisors: Prof Elina Hypponen, Dr Terry Boyle, Dr Ang Zhou

The benefits and risks of coffee consumption have long been debated. In 2016 the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that the existing scientific data does not enable a conclusion to be made about whether coffee consumption causes cancer. More recently, in California companies such as Starbucks are now legally required to warn customers about the potential for coffee to cause cancer as it contains a chemical (acrylamide) which has been classified as being a probable carcinogen by IARC. . This project will use large scale epidemiological data to examine evidence for a causal association between habitual coffee consumption and the risk of cancer.

This project will use ‘Mendelian Randomisation’, which is also called nature’s randomised trial, to examine evidence for a causal effect of coffee consumption on cancer. In MR, we use genetic variations as a proxy indicators for differences in coffee consumption. This allows us to overcome many of the methodological problems affecting other types of observational studies, allowing us to obtain independent evidence for the true effects of coffee consumption on cancer.

This project is well suited for a high performing student who enjoys writing and who is considering post-graduate studies. The student will learn skills in genetic epidemiology, cancer epidemiology and data analyses. She/he will be guided through the project, data analyses and reporting with a view of producing at least one high quality scientific publication

CPHR5-3: Personalised precision medicine using a statistical approach based on a whole-genome information

Supervisors: Dr Hong Lee, Dr Guiyan Ni, Dr Ang Zhou

The genomic era provides a realistic opportunity for precision medicine in which individuals are classified into high or low-risk subgroups based on profiles that incorporate information from genomic risk factors. Precision medicine based on genomic risk prediction can be applied at an early stage. It may be possible to predict future disease risk at birth, with potential to predict, and to intervene to prevent progression to the disease. However, the accuracy of genomic risk prediction using current approaches is not yet good enough to be applied to an intervention program for complex diseases. In this project, we will investigate a number of novel approaches to increase the accuracy of genomic prediction. We will also estimate economic benefits from reduced treatment costs in an intervention program implementing novel genomic prediction approaches. The outcomes of this project will be of great significance to the prospects of using genetic information for personalised precision medicine.

This project will be suitable for a high achieving student who has interest in complex statistical modelling, and in developing related skills with an application to disease prevention.

CPHR5-4: Identifying the determinants of adverse patient-reported outcomes in cancer survivors

Supervisors: Dr Terry Boyle, Dr Kate Fennell

Cancer survivors experience a range of poor physical, psychosocial and psychological outcomes, such as lower quality of life and greater fatigue than the general population.

In this project, the student will investigate demographic (e.g., age, sex, socioeconomic status, remoteness), clinical (e.g., cancer type, treatment) and lifestyle (e.g., smoking, physical activity) determinants of poorer patient-reported outcomes in cancer survivors. The student will also undertake a literature review. The specific project topic/s depends on the student’s interests and skills.

The student will be guided throughout the project and will learn skills in epidemiology, psycho-oncology and data anlaysis

Student will be required to have an interest in aptitude in statistical analyses and literature reviews; good writing and communication skills

CPHR5-5: Does being physically active reduce the risk of cancer

Supervisors: Dr Terry Boyle, Prof Elina Hypponen, Dr Beben Benyamin

The benefits and risks of coffee consumption have long been debated. In 2016 the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that the existing scientific data does not enable a conclusion to be made about whether coffee consumption causes cancer. More recently, in California companies such as Starbucks are now legally required to warn customers about the potential for coffee to cause cancer as it contains a chemical (acrylamide) which has been classified as being a probable carcinogen by IARC. . This project will use large scale epidemiological data to examine evidence for a causal association between habitual coffee consumption and the risk of cancer.

This project will use ‘Mendelian Randomisation’, which is also called nature’s randomised trial, to examine evidence for a causal effect of coffee consumption on cancer. In MR, we use genetic variations as a proxy indicators for differences in coffee consumption. This allows us to overcome many of the methodological problems affecting other types of observational studies, allowing us to obtain independent evidence for the true effects of coffee consumption on cancer.

This project is well suited for a high performing student who enjoys writing and who is considering post-graduate studies. The student will learn skills in genetic epidemiology, cancer epidemiology and data analyses. She/he will be guided through the project, data analyses and reporting with a view of producing at least one high quality scientific publication.


Other non-affiliated research

HLS1: Clinical reasoning and decision making in occupational therapy driver rehabilitation and complex vehicle modification programs

Supervisors: Dr Angela Berndt, A/Prof Stacey George

Driving is an important means of mobility that enables people to engage in activities of daily living.  Conditions such as acquired brain injury, stroke or spinal injury can interrupt a person’s capacity to drive safely.  However, many people return to driving successfully by participating in driving rehabilitation programs.  Driver trained occupational therapists (DTOT) design, prescribe and evaluate the success of individualised, case by case driving rehabilitation programs, often including complex vehicle modification (VM) prescription, which is a rapidly advancing field.  People with disability who may not have been able to drive a motor vehicle in the past, may now do so due the availability of advanced technology solutions.  Investments in VMs are set to rise, for example, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIA) Assistive Technology Strategy (2015) actuarial forecasts estimate expenditure of $56.8 million on vehicle modifications at full scheme in 2019 – 20. However, there is little primary research of the implementation methods or outcomes of driving rehabilitation.  

DTOTs are advanced practitioners. Clinical reasoning literature suggests advanced practitioners use a variety of integrated reasoning and decision making processes in their practices.  This study proposes to analyse the clinical reasoning used by DTOTs in driving rehabilitation intervention in order to define the critical factors of successful driving rehabilitation programs.  Information regarding use of outcome measures will also be collected in order to inform subsequent larger scale outcome studies.

The candidate will gain skills in primary data collection, analysis, synthesis and writing for publication.  

An occupational therapy background is desirable. The student will need a basic understanding of the core attributes of qualitative methods and have good communication and self-management skills.

HLS5-4: Racial discrimination and health: getting the right measure

Supervisors: Dr Gloria Meja Delgado, Ms Kim Morey, Dr Gisela van Kessel

Racism is linked with morbidity and mortality through multiple and diverse social and biological pathways. In addition to the direct effect on individuals, racism also affects interactions with providers and the health system. A challenge in studying the relationship between racism and health is the large number of research instruments used to measure racism, yet the lack of a health system measure specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This study will assess current ways of measuring racism, consult with stakeholders, and propose an indicator of structural or institutional racism. The student will review measures of racism and discrimination in the scientific literature and critically evaluate current methods for relevance to Aboriginal people and the South Australian context. The student will engage widely with the Aboriginal community, co-facilitate focus groups, analyse and consolidate knowledge gains with prior information to propose a culturally appropriate indicator of racism.

HLS5-6: Investigating the potential of eye-tracking technology to understand preferences for health services

Supervisors: Dr Rachel Milte, Prof Julie Ratcliffe, Dr Jyoti Khadka

Understanding how people make choices, and how to help them make the best choices they can is important as we move into a 'consumer-centered' health and aged care system. Increasingly it is being recognised that the way information is provided can influence the decision someone makes. Studies exploring the decision choices in health care have been more focussed on the younger general population largely ignoring older people. Therefore, we don't know much about older people with cognitive impairment make choices for aged care services. This study will use Discrete Choice Experiments (DCE) (a technique commonly used in health economics to understand consumer preferences for care services) combined with innovative Eye-Tracking technology to understand the types of information older people with cognitive impairment focus on when making a choice aged care services. This information can be used to develop supports for adults to make better quality decisions.

HLS5-7: The effect of Frailty on the Utilisation of aged care services - a population based evaluation

Supervisors: Prof Julie Ratcliffe, Dr Maria Inacio, Dr Jyoti Khadka

Frailty is as a state of increased vulnerability to mortality and resource utilisation1 and it is estimated to be prevalent in 18-49% of older Australians.2 While frailty is known to  disproportionately affect the utilisation of health care services of people less is understood regarding its effect on the utilisation of aged care services in Australia. 

Using the Registry of Older South Australians (ROSA), which is a new population-based multi-disciplinary data platform that connects the cohort of people receiving aged care services in Australia to their health services utilisation, this project will evaluate the effect of frailty on the utilisation of aged care services on the ROSA cohort from 2003 to 2014. It will describe how the cohort’s frailty has changed over the study period and evaluate how it affects the utilisation of specific types of aged care services. Frailty will be measured using the recently developed ROSA Frailty Index. Aged care service utilisation will be measured by the types of aged care services received by the study cohort (i.e. permanent residential care, home care packages, transition care, and respite care). 

Understanding the epidemiology of aged care services in frail people will inform the preparation of the aged care system regarding resource allocation, workforce preparation, and policy development. This is needed as our population continues to age, increasing demand on our system.


HLS5-8: Changed in psychotropic medication use after entering permanent residential aged care in Australia

Supervisors: Prof Julie Ratcliffe, Stephanie Harrison, Dr Maria Inacio

National and international guidelines for appropriate medications use in residential aged care recommend that psychotropic medications should not be used as first line treatment for changed behaviours in dementia due to the potential risks outweighing their potential benefits. Psychotropic medications (including antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and antidepressants) are associated with a high-risk of adverse events such as an increased risk of falls, cardiovascular complications and mortality. Despite recommendations, an estimated 61% of people living in Australian residential aged care facilities are regularly using psychotropic medications. 

This project will examine if people are prescribed more psychotropic medications after entering residential aged care in Australia compared to when they were living at home. An analysis of trends of psychotropic medication use over time in residential aged care facilities will also be conducted to see if the use of psychotropics has decreased over time (2003-2014).

Students must have the ability to use relevant statistical software such as STATA and have basic knowledge of statistics for health research/epidemiology

HLS12: The feasibility of delivering integrative health care in rural and remote South Australia

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Martin Jones, Dr Marianne Gillam

Integrative health care (IHC) is a comprehensive and holistic approach to health care in which all health professionals work collaboratively, including biomedical and complementary medicine professions, in an equal and respectful manner, to safely and effectively meet the needs of the consumer and community. While there has been an increasing push internationally for an integrative system of health care, this agenda has largely focussed on models of care appropriate to urban centres. In light of the health workforce maldistribution in rural Australia, it is probable that these models of care may be neither appropriate nor acceptable to health care settings in rural Australia. The Integrative health care Model development and Evaluation – rural (TIMEr) project attempts to address this knowledge gap by exploring the feasibility of delivering IHC in rural and remote South Australia. The project draws from previous work in this area to explore consumer and health stakeholder perspectives of IHC using a cross-sectional survey design.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline.

HLS13: Health and wellbeing and the use of health professionals in regional Australia

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

Approximately one third of Australia’s population live in regional areas. The rates of chronic disease and mortality in these areas are higher than in metropolitan areas, and there is poorer access to health services and greater social disparity. Conversely, there are reports of greater life satisfaction and better self-reported mental health with increasing remoteness. Unfortunately, the association between social determinants of health and health status, and the use of health professionals in regional areas has to date not been compared with metropolitan areas. A greater understanding of this association will help to inform strategies to address inequalities and improve rural health and well-being. This population based cohort study will use data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to examine the association between social determinants of health, health status and the use of health professionals in regional and metropolitan areas.

Applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline and must have basic skills in use of statistical software (Stata/SAS/SPSS/r)

HLS14: The quality and effectiveness of cognitive behaviour therapy based mobile apps

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

Australia has one of the highest rates of use of smartphones in the world; in 2016, 84% of the population owned a smartphone and this use is increasing. In theory, mHealth offers a promising solution to improve health care in regions of Australia with poor access to health services. Thousands of apps are available that promise to improve health and wellbeing and to change behaviour; however, there is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the quality and effectiveness of these apps, and little discourse on the implications of their use in regional settings.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for mental disorders (i.e. anxiety, depression) and chronic pain. Thus, CBT-based apps may provide an opportunity for people to self-manage these conditions; although, the evidence base for such apps is uncertain. This project aims to investigate the evidence of effectiveness of CBT-based mobile apps, as well as the quality of such apps, and to explore the implications of these findings for regional Australia.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline or psychology

HLS15: The quality and effectiveness of mobile apps for managing chronic disease

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

Australia has one of the highest rates of use of smartphones in the world; in 2016, 84% of the population owned a smartphone and this use is increasing. In theory, mHealth offers a promising solution to improve health care in regions of Australia with poor access to health services. Thousands of apps are available that promise to improve health and wellbeing and to change behaviour; however, there is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the quality and effectiveness of these apps, and little discourse on the implications of their use in regional settings.

Several apps exist that aim to assist individuals with chronic disease to monitor disease progression, adhere to treatment, and to prevent relapse; however, the evidence base for such apps is uncertain. This project aims to investigate the evidence of effectiveness of mobile apps for managing chronic disease, as well as the quality of such apps, and to explore the implications of these findings for regional Australia.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline.

HLS16: The quality of mobile apps and their effect on physical activity

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

Australia has one of the highest rates of use of smartphones in the world; in 2016, 84% of the population owned a smartphone and this use is increasing. In theory, mHealth offers a promising solution to improve health care in regions of Australia with poor access to health services. Thousands of apps are available that promise to improve health and wellbeing and to change behaviour; however, there is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the quality and effectiveness of these apps, and little discourse on the implications of their use in regional settings.

Physical activity is important to health and wellbeing. Apps aimed at increasing physical activity using behaviour change techniques do exist, but the evidence base for many of these apps is poor. This project aims to investigate the evidence of effectiveness of mobile apps for increasing physical activity, as well as the quality of such apps, and to explore the implications of these findings for regional Australia.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline.

HLS17: The feasibility of utilising non-conventional health providers to address health service gaps in rural and remote South Australia

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

Every Australian has the right to access quality health care services. However, for people living in rural and remote South Australia, timely access to the services that they need and/or desire may not always be possible because of distance, transportation issues, and service availability. Although attempts have been made to improve service availability in rural Australia by reducing the health workforce maldistribution in the region, getting health providers to the areas where needed is not always possible. This suggests that a different approach may be required to address the health service needs of rural Australians. Learning from the experiences of other countries in tackling this issue, the Addressing health service gaps through non-conventional health providers (ASHINE) project explores whether the utilisation of non-conventional health providers would be a feasible solution to addressing the health service gaps in rural and remote South Australia.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline.

HLS18: Factors driving consumer use of complementary and alternative medicines or services in Rural Australia [COMMANDER]

Supervisors: Dr Matthew Leach, Dr Marianne Gillam, Dr Martin Jones

More than two thirds of Australians use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and around one third consult CAM practitioners, with relatively higher levels of use reported in rural Australia. The estimated cost of these interventions to Australians in 2004 was AUD$1.8 billion. For some of these interventions, there is good evidence of effectiveness. For many treatments, however, evidence of effectiveness is lacking. The paucity of evidence in this area, and the publication of unfavourable research findings for some interventions (e.g. homeopathy), does not appear to have constrained public interest in CAM. This suggests that a consumer’s decision to use CAM is not influenced heavily by best available evidence, but by other factors. The Complementary and Alternative Medicine Drivers in Rural Australia [COMMANDER] project will explore the factors that drive rural Australians to use complementary and alternative medicines and/or services in order to gain insight into the needs of this population. This will be explored using a cross-sectional survey design.

The applicant must hold a qualification in a health discipline.

HLS19: Exploring Indigenous governance models that enhance Aboriginal people’s control and use of social, health and economic data

Supervisors: Dr Natasha Howard, Dr Odette Gibson, Dr Gisela van Kessel, Kim Morey

Aboriginal Health Workers deliver primary health care services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.  They are essential to promoting the health of Indigenous Australians and to achievement of the Council of Australian Governments’ targets to Close the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage.  As a workforce, Aboriginal Health Workers were once considered para-professionals but have undergone a process of professionalization with increasing numbers of Aboriginal Health Practitioners registered through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.  This project will explore the sociohistorical context of professionalization and determine the current status of Aboriginal Health Workers in South Australia in relation to demographics, qualifications, training and support needs.  The challenges and opportunities of professionalization will be explored through interviews and focus groups to develop a series of recommendations for the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia regarding how best to support the professionalization of Aboriginal Health Workers.

Development and evaluation of a research tool for assessing work and leisure in Assistance Dogs

Areas of study and research

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