Tāmaki Innovation Campus


Ngaire Kerse
Professor Ngaire Kerse

Spend 15 minutes with Professor Ngaire Kerse and you can become an instant convert to her passion and enthusiasm for the elderly.

She is recognised as an international expert in three interrelated areas of research: maximising health for older people; falls and older people; and the impact of physical activity on development of disability. She is Head of School of Population Health and a Professor of General Practice and Primary Health Care, with a PhD from the University of Melbourne in health promotion for older people.

In a job where time management is critical, Professor Kerse has just recently added yet more work to her already busy days. She has two new Health Research Council funded research projects, and has been appointed the inaugural Joyce Cook Chair in Ageing Well. She is also the 2018 recipient of the Charles Bridges-Webb medal for outstanding academic practice and leadership.

She wants to use her new role in Ageing Well to mobilise communities, including the well elderly, to be social connectors for the ageing and lonely, with the broader goal of transforming cities and rural towns into age-friendly environments for our increasingly diverse elderly.

As well as these new commitments, she continues her work on the world’s first longitudinal study into advanced ageing engaging indigenous elders with co-leader Dr Marama Muru-Lanning. Life and Living in Advanced Age, a Cohort Study in New Zealand (LiLACS NZ) is following almost 1,000 people in the Bay of Plenty aged 80-plus and new findings point to loneliness in old age.

Ngaire received $248,490 from HRC to conduct a two-year study, in collaboration with the School of Engineering, developing a robot for people with dementia to maintain independence.

Her summary says 'people with mild dementia are more likely to lose independence and may benefit from more physical training, cognitive stimulation and daily reassurance and reminding. Assistive technology can help to deliver such 'therapy' and quality of life may improve. This feasibility study aims to provide a robot equipped with physical and cognitive programmes, daily medication and schedule reminders, in the homes of people with mild dementia and see whether participants can manage with the robot, comparing the robot with computer tablets that have the same programmes. The main study is a randomised controlled trial of the programme delivered by a robot, a computer tablet or written diary. The impact on sedentary time, quality of life, cognition and fall-free time for people with mild dementia will be measured. If quality of life, cognition and fall-free activity improve, people with mild dementia may be able to stay at home.'

She believes this is becoming increasingly critical, as older baby boomers are now looking after increasingly frail elderly parents. Cost savings benefit the public health budget, but benefit the elderly more, with better at-home care, reduced loneliness and more active lifestyles much later in life than ever before.

Another area of concern to Professor Kerse is the importance of falls prevention in care homes. Over the next three years, her research into Staying UpRight in residential care will look at whether an exercise programme specifically designed for people with dementia, plays a greater role in preventing falls and injury in comparison to seated exercise.

“Older people fall frequently in residential aged care with disastrous consequences including injury and hospitalisation, and preventing falls in care homes has been difficult. If this exercise programme is successful, those in care homes will benefit and costs will be saved,” she says.

A novel feature of this application is body-worn sensor monitoring of participants to establish gait parameters and activity patterns. Amount of activity will be used as an outcome for the trial, falls/active time, and gait patterns and parameters will be examined between those with and without dementia and in response to the programme. Individualised programmes designed specifically to meet newly-identified patterns will be designed to prevent falls.

She is passionate about the standard of care for the aged and would like to see the elderly, and those with dementia, becoming active within their limits. “Care facility staff can help, if they understand how important upright activity is,” she says. “For instance, it would be preferable to assist people to walk to the dining room, rather than take an easier route and use a wheelchair.

Keen to have her research inform policy for the elderly, she unashamedly says she will work with whatever organisation, council, policy advisor or groups needed to improve aged care, whether at home or in a care facility.




Professor Kerse is recognised as an international expert in interrelated areas of research, and currently leads several research teams, each engaged in a number of research projects:

  • Maximising health for older people: an organised programme of research studying the pathway from impairment to dependence. Projects test activity-based interventions to improve function in residential care and for those with depression. The impact of vitamin D on cardiovascular function and modelling society through ageing and changing health service needs.
  • Falls and older people: studies of falls in older people after stroke, in residential care and in a large sample of primary care patients have led to collaborative teams aiming to prevent falls through intervention development and testing.
  • The impact of physical activity on development of disability. Various physical activity trials have led to an understanding of the potential to prevent development of disability.
  • Developing Robot Technology for older people with dementia. 
  • Ngaire was a Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice, and was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship of the Royal New Zealand College of GPs in 2011.
  • In 2007, Ngaire led the BRIGHT trial (Brief Risk Identification Geriatric Health Tool) to investigate methods for healthcare professionals, such as GPs and aged services coordinators, to stay in closer contact with their older patients so that health problems might be identified at an earlier stage, and interventions put in place to reduce disability in those at risk.