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The University of Southampton
(023) 8120 4354

Professor Helen Roberts BSc, MB ChB, FRCP (UK), PhD

Professor of Medicine for Older People and Honorary Consultant in Geriatric Medicine, National lead for NIHR CRN Ageing Speciality Group,Lead for Ageing and Dementia Theme, NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex,Lead for ageing research, NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre

Professor Helen Roberts's photo

Professor Helen Roberts is Professor of Medicine for Older People at the University of Southampton.

I trained in medicine at the University of Birmingham. I have a clinical practice as a Consultant in Geriatric Medicine at University Hospital Southampton and specialise in the management of Parkinson’s disease. I lead the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network Ageing Specialty Group which represents all NHS regions, promotes research into ageing and aims to ensure that older people have the opportunity to take part in research studies.
My own research focus is on nutrition, physical activity, frailty, and sarcopenia in older people and those with Parkinson’s. I lead the Ageing and Dementia theme of the NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex which enables the translation of research findings into clinical practice to be evaluated. I am lead for ageing research within the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and principal investigator on studies of nutrition and sarcopenia in older people, collaborating with researchers at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, the Universities of Reading, Newcastle and Kings College London. My research group have recently studied the implementation of grip strength measurement into routine practice and the impact of trained volunteers on mealtime care and physical activity of older people in hospital.

I have long standing collaborations with researchers in the School of Health Sciences and the University of Newcastle, conducting research into Parkinson’s. Recent research studies include the evaluation of dancing and personalised exercise in Parkinson’s, and development of self-management tools for people with Parkinson’s who fall.


BSc, Physiology, University of Birmingham 1981

MB ChB, Medicine, University of Birmingham 1984

Fellow Royal College of Physicians of London 1999

PhD, University of Southampton 2012


Appointments held

2018 – present: Chair of UK Association of Academic Geriatric Medicine

2015 – present:National Lead for NIHR CRN Ageing Speciality Group

2009 – 2014: Director of NIHR CRN South Coast DeNDRoN Research Network

2010 – 2014: Hampshire and Isle of Wight Comprehensive Research Network (CRN) board member

2010 – 2012: Chair British Geriatrics Society Movement Disorders Section (Vice chair & treasurer 2008-10; secretary 2006-8)

2008 – present: Faculty member UK Parkinson’s Academy

1994 – 2002 Consultant in Geriatric Medicine, University Hospital Southampton

Research interests

Recent and current research studies on ageing.

Southampton Mealtime Assistance Roll Out Trial (SMART) 2014 - 16

The Southampton Mealtime Assistance Study, funded by the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, evaluated the introduction of trained volunteer mealtime assistants to help older patients on Medicine for Older People wards at lunchtime. We showed that it was feasible to recruit and train volunteers to assist patients safely including help with eating. Patients, relatives, ward staff and the volunteers reported that the quality of mealtime care was improved by the introduction of the volunteers. We then studied the implementation of mealtime volunteers more widely in four different clinical areas within University Hospital Southampton, supported by the NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex. This study demonstrated that volunteers provided high quality mealtime care, were highly regarded by patients, relatives and staff, and released nurses for clinical tasks. This programme has now been adopted by the hospital and recognised as a national exemplar by HelpForce which campaigns for more volunteers in the NHS.

See the Wessex NIHR website for more details of this and other studies.

Southampton Mobility Volunteers Study (SoMoVe) 2015 - 18

Older people often have very low levels of physical activity in hospital, which can lead to a loss of independence. Building on our experience of the impact of volunteers helping older people at mealtimes, we studied the feasibility and acceptability of volunteers helping older patients in hospital maintain and improve their physical activity. This work was supported by the NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex. We have produced recommendations on how to measure physical activity of older people in hospital; exercise and training programmes that are safe and practical; and shown that the volunteers were appreciated by the patients. This programme is also adopted by University Hospital Southampton and is an exemplar for HelpForce. Research will now focus on developing community mobility volunteers.

Grip Strength Measurement Implementation Study (GRImP) 2015 - 17

Low grip strength is central to the diagnosis of sarcopenia (loss of muscle strength, function and mass with older age), and is a recognised marker of poor current and future health. Grip strength is often measured in research studies but is not used in clinical practice. This study evaluated the implementation of routine grip strength measurement on Medicine for Older People wards, supported by the NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex.  We found that grip strength was simple to measure and could be adopted into routine ward assessments, to identify those patients who would benefit from increased attention to their diet and physical activity. This finding is highly relevant as low grip strength was recommended in 2018 to be the main diagnostic feature of sarcopenia in clinical settings.

Hertfordshire Sarcopenia Study 2012 - 17

This study aimed to determine the lifecourse nutrition and lifestyle influences on sarcopenia in community dwelling older people and to identify the epigenetic, cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the observed associations between nutrition, lifestyle and sarcopenia. The study is funded by the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, and research continues into biomolecular markers of sarcopenia.

Acute Hospital Care for Frail Older People (HOW-CGA) 2014 - 17

This multicentre study funded by the NIHR HS&DR programme aimed to identify markers of frailty in older people admitted to acute care and which models of care are effective and cost effective. Research partners were the Universities of Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield and the Nuffield Trust. The study team developed a Hospital Frailty Risk Score derived from routine data, and the results were published in the Lancet (Gilbert T et al 2018). Other outputs include a national survey of Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA) and toolkits to develop CGA practice in a wide range of hospital departments. Details are available at the BGS website.

Screen and Treat for Malnutrition (STREAM) Programme 2016 - 21

I am a co-applicant on this study funded by NIHR PGfAR and led by Professor Paul Little which aims to establish the role of oral nutritional supplements for malnourished community dwelling older people.

Fortified foods for older people 2017 - 18

This study aimed to evaluate the use of fortified foods for older patients in hospital in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Reading. It was funded by the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre. Data analysis is almost complete and we will report the results later in 2019.

Southampton Arm Fracture Study 2019 – 2021

This study will test the best way to measure frailty and sarcopenia among older people attending fracture clinics with an arm fracture. We will estimate how common these conditions are and how best to manage them in this group. This study is supported by NIHR Research for Patient Benefit.

Current research in Parkinson’s

PDSAFE 2013 - 17

This multi-centre randomised controlled trial compared a novel personalised physiotherapy treatment with usual care, and was funded by the NIHR HTA programme. The intervention did not reduce falling overall but did show reduced falls rate and improved physical function among those with moderate rather than advanced disease severity.

Improved understanding of disease-specific critical events causing crisis in mental health and neurological conditions. 2014 - 17

This study aims to identify events triggering change in care requirements in community dwelling people living with chronic neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, and is supported by NHS England.

Implementing a self management guide for people with Parkinson’s who fall and their carer. 2016 - 19

This study is developing and evaluating a self- management guide in partnership with people with Parkinsons’s and their carers. This work is supported by the NIHR CLAHRC: Wessex.

First Steps. 2017 - 18

This study is evaluating a programme for people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, in partnership with people with Parkinson’s and the Universities of Oxford and Oxford Brookes. The programme is designed and delivered by people with Parkinson’s. This work is funded by Parkinson’s UK.

Optim park 2019 – 2022

Optimization of community resources and systems of support to enhance the process of living with Parkinson´s Disease: a multi-sectoral intervention (funded by EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative disease research).

This study is a partnership between Universities and national Parkinson’s organisations in Spain, Norway, Denmark and Cyprus, led by Southampton.  This project aims is to enhance the process of living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) for the person with PD and the family-carer by building multi-sectoral care pathways, with a special focus on how to optimize the use of resources and systems of support in the community.

Recently completed postgraduate student supervision:

4 PhD students
2 DM students
2 MSc students
2 MPhil students
1 Parkinson’s UK Career Development Fellow

Current postgraduate student supervision:

Charlotte Owen DM
Esther Clift  DClinP
Veena Agarwal PhD
Milly Heelan PhD
Natalie Cox PhD

Research group

Human Development and Health

Affiliate research group

Human Development and Physiology

Faculty of Medicine

Lead for Medicine and Elderly Care module in BM Year 3
Contributor to BM clinical curriculum redesign
Head of Ageing and Health Field for BMedSci

National and International responsibilities

National lead of NIHR CRN: Ageing Speciality Group
Chair of UK Association of Academic Geriatric Medicine,
Faculty of UK Parkinson’s Academy (education for consultants and specialist registrars)
Associate Editor for European Geriatric Medicine Journal
Trustee of the BrendonCare Charitable Foundation
Expert reviewer for NIHR applications
and international journals




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Lead for Medicine and Elderly Care module BM year 3
Tutor delivering small and large group teaching 
Member year 3 and joint year steering groups

B Med Sci

Head of Field for Ageing and Health
Supervisor for research students

Personal tutor for 5-6 medical undergraduates


Faculty of UK Parkinson’s Academy


Author of module for e-learning platform on age-related muscle loss sponsored by the European Geriatric Medicine Society

Professor Helen Roberts
Academic Geriatric Medicine, Mailpoint 807, University Hospital Southampton, Southampton SO16 6YD

Room Number: SGH/CE118/MP807

Facsimile: (023) 8120 6134

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