Institute for Ageing

Steve Parry

Interview: Dr Steve Parry

Dr Steve Parry is Clinical Director for the Medical Directorate in the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

"Newcastle now has great influence nationally and internationally. There’s more powerful work that needs to be done across a whole swathe of medical disciplines, given the changing demographic over the next 20 or 30 years."

Fear of falling

Fear of falling is one of the most widespread problems among older people, confining many to their homes, causing them to suffer prolonged periods of social isolation.

“It’s a hideous problem,” says Dr Steve Parry. “We have lots of people who come through the Falls Service who haven’t been outside their homes for years, because they are so worried about falling over.

“Often that fear is out of line with their physical abilities, which can be very good, but the fear of falling acts as a paralysing agent.”

Dr Parry relates how around 30% of all older people suffer from falls and as a consequence about half of them develop a fear of falling. That is the huge scale of the problem.

Cognitive behaviour therapy to treat fear of falling

But some relief may be at hand with a novel cognitive behaviour therapy he is investigating, similar to the treatment used to help people overcome some forms of anxiety. This could improve their sense of confidence and well-being, overcoming fearful thoughts and enabling them to get out and about again.

“There are just not enough psychologists in the land who would be able to deliver this kind of intervention,” he explained. “But we are teaching non-psychologists to do this, so it will have a much wider ability to impact the entire Heath Service.”

Bench to bedside - using research to inform practice

Dr Parry is Clinical Director for the Medical Directorate in the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, where he has responsibility for older people's medicine. He combines hospital consultancy with being a clinical senior lecturer at Newcastle University, of which he is a graduate and where he now carries out some of his research.

He describes his work as “bench to bedside stuff”, putting the results of research carried out within the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University into clinical practice.

Dr Parry believes the Newcastle Biomedicine alliance between the University and the NHS Trust has encouraged a close relationship to flourish between research and clinical work that is highly beneficial to patients.

The multi-disciplinary nature of so much of this work, particularly where ageing is concerned, has put Newcastle in a national leadership position. It has, in fact, become one of the key centres in the world driving forward the whole ageing agenda, he feels.

“There is a very positive, proactive approach from both sides,” he said. “The Trust is very keen to foster research in general, because you can’t do my kind of research without somebody having done the basic science work. These are complementary strands in which Newcastle is very strong.”

In the case of the cognitive behaviour therapy study, this is funded through the Health Technology Assessment programme of the National Institute for Medical Research.

Another sizeable area of research in which he is engaged is looking into the cause of blackouts among elderly people. This tests the effectiveness of a drug called Adenosine, currently used throughout the world to manage fast heart rates.

And Dr Parry has applied for grant support for further studies into balance training for falls sufferers, as well as for a diagnostic tool that could be used as an early signpost of delirium, or acute confusion.

He says the huge strides forward taken in Newcastle in bringing together research and clinical care could not have been possible without the unique relationship forged between the University and the Trust.

“Newcastle now has great influence nationally and internationally. There’s more powerful work that needs to be done across a whole swathe of medical disciplines, given the changing demographic over the next 20 or 30 years.

“This is where we need to be putting a lot of our intellectual, financial and clinical resources, to try to answer the questions being raised by the ageing population. And it’s so pleasing to see that the talk is walked in Newcastle.”