Emma Richardson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Exercise Neuroscience Research Lab, wins first place in the 2020 UAB Postdoctoral Research Day Science Blitz category. Her focus was “What is it like to age with MS?” which came from work she developed as one of the first recipients of the Healthy Aging through LifesTyle in Multiple Sclerosis (HALT MS) pilot grant awards.

Richardson’s qualitative research explores experiences and perceptions of wellness among persons with MS over 60, with the ultimate goal being for this data to be the foundation to inform future studies and interventions to enhance wellness and quality of life in this group.

At the Science Blitz she presented her first results from this project by telling two different stories of aging with MS: “Graceful Concessions” or “Kicking and Screaming” where she showed that aging with MS is a unique and complex experience for each person.

Some individuals experienced a double impact of age and MS effects that resulted in a more progressive downward trajectory of physical and cognitive function. This group had to ‘gracefully concede’ to losing some ability.

Other individuals experienced a new lease of life and perceived they were in their peak physical, cognitive and emotional condition in their 60s and 70s. She found that many individuals believed they had ‘aged out’ of MS and were aging more successfully than peers without MS as they were ‘kicking and screaming’ to maintain as much function as possible.

Richardson’s early findings highlight that, like everything MS, aging is a complex experience where one size does not fit all. Her research opens the door for more exploratory work investigating why some people experience a double impact and others ‘age out’ of MS. Her work also highlights that wellness interventions must be flexible and specific, and provide some optimism for the future regarding positive images of aging with MS.

Richardson, whose postdoctoral fellowship is in the Department of Physical Therapy at the UAB School of Health Professions, earned her PhD within the Peter Harrison Centre at Loughborough University, United Kingdom.

This was the 17th annual UAB Postdoc Research Day. It showcases postdoctoral research and promotes networking and collaboration among trainees. The Science Blitz category is for new postdocs to deliver a three-minute presentation detailing their study idea, methods and preliminary data. UAB faculty and fellow postdocs judge the presentations.