Elderly to Benefit from Study by Master’s Saliva Researcher
UKZN staff member, Ms Prathna Dudhrajh, obtained her Master’s degree in Sport Science after completing a novel study on saliva, which will help improve the lives of senior citizens.
Supervised by Sport Science and Physiotherapy experts, Professor Andrew McKune and Dr Serela Ramklass, her study was titled: “Effects of Group Exercise on Salivary Biomarkers of Mucosal Immunity and Hypothalamic-Pituitary Adrenal Axis Activation in Older Persons Living in Aged Care Facilities”.
‘My friends and family are extremely pleased and proud of my achievements,’ said the ecstatic College of Health Sciences (CHS) Postgraduate, Research, Ethics and Higher Degrees Officer.
Her experimental study measured salivary biomarkers in 95 elderly folk aged between 60 and 86, 40 of whom did physical exercise twice a week, and 45 who exercised three times a week.
It was the first time mucosal immunity (secretory IgA), salivary cortisol and salivary DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) were tested in South Africa’s elderly population living in aged care facilities.
The study found that training two or three times a week helped increase mucosal immunity among the participants and this was significant because it enhanced their immune defence in the upper respiratory tract (URT).
‘Secretory IgA is the first line of defence against URT infections such as the common cold, corona viruses and rhinoviruses,’ Dudhrajh explained. ‘The increase in DHEA shows promise that long term exercise has the potential to increase DHEA levels in the elderly further enhancing their mucosal immunity. This programme can be adapted to become part of the daily activity in aged care facilities. Such a programme may lead to increased quality of life, decrease in chronic and URTI diseases, better mobility and a decrease in frailty.’
Dudhrajh said the number of elderly people in South Africa was on the up and there was increased incidence of chronic diseases, stress and disability among that population group. ‘Increased physical activity or exercise play an important role in reducing the negative effects of ageing. However, there is no research examining the effects of exercise on markers of immunity and stress in older persons residing in aged care facilities in South Africa.’
Dudhrajh’s study was conducted as part of a CHS intervention to improve quality of life for residents of old age homes. ‘I would like to continue with the saliva research as it is still a new field in South Africa and I may consider pursuing a PhD in a similar field’.
Dudhrajh thanked her supervisors and Mr Sonny Govender for his ‘invaluable assistance and advice during the lab work’.
She is currently doing a three-year course in Vedic Studies run by the Arya Samaj South Africa, which she will complete in June next year. ‘It is very different from my master’s work and I would like to focus my attention on this for a while as it brings me closer to my spiritual life,’ she said.
Dudhrajh is involved in a number of religious and cultural activities, a regular gym goer, enjoys knitting and baking, and is an active member of the Arya Samaj South Africa.
‘I enjoy spending time with my family and friends as well as my dogs. My faith in God keeps me going and my parents are my greatest pillar of strength.’ She said she was grateful to them for allowing her to follow her various passions in life and letting her become the individual she is.