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Dr. Andrea Iaboni named KITE's newest scientist

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Renown for developing and evaluating innovative technology and care for older adults with advanced dementia, Dr. Andrea Iaboni is on her way to being an expert who is both nationally and internationally recognized in her field. 

Dr. Iaboni is a geriatric psychiatrist, clinician-researcher, professor and medical lead at our Specialized Dementia Unit, and she is now adding KITE Scientist to her already impressive title.

Over the years, Dr. Iaboni has made many notable contributions to improve the lives of older adults living with dementia. Last year, her team installed AMBIENT, a vision-based computing system to measure the gait and balance of people living with dementia, in our Specialized Dementia Unit to detect and prevent falls. 

More recently, following the pandemic, Dr. Iaboni and her team have been working on developing a Dementia Isolation Toolkit, which includes plain-language guidance documents for people who work in long-term care. So far, the toolkit is equipped with two assets; an ethical guidance document for people who work in long-term care, and an infographic outlining COVID-19 symptoms in people living with dementia. 

Here's our Q-and-A with Dr. Iaboni: 

How long have you been at Toronto Rehab and what are a few of your greatest achievements to date that have made an impact in the geriatric care/ research space?

I first started working at Toronto Rehab as a geriatric psychiatry fellow, consulting on the Musculoskeletal (MSK) program at Hillcrest while heavily pregnant!  As I came to the end of my fellowship, it became clear that my research interests in mobility and mental health in older adults were an excellent match to the environment at Toronto Rehab, and I joined the Geriatric Psychiatry program as clinician-researcher.  

So far, I am most proud of the interdisciplinary nature of my work at Toronto Rehab. I feel I have forged close collaborations with engineers, computer scientists, and experts in biomechanics and I enjoy sharing my psychiatric and clinical research expertise, as well as my understanding of health systems and care.  

How did you get into geriatric psychiatry? Did you always want to be a clinician researcher/ scientist in this field?

My doctoral work was in Molecular Immunology, but I quickly realized that I didn't want to do basic or bench science. In medical school, I had an immediate attraction to psychiatry, and I enjoyed the complexity and the reward of working with older adults and their families. I kept a hand in research throughout my psychiatric training, and it wasn't until my last few years that I started focusing in on the issue of falls and fear of falling in older adults, under the mentorship of Dr. Alastair Flint.  

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job and working with older adults? Has the pandemic played a role in defining this? 

I find that my clinical work involves a lot of creativity and problem-solving. Every individual I see is different, and working to understand them and the nature of their problem is like solving a puzzle by gathering pieces of information. I love that my research and clinical work are so closely linked, and that I get to ask and answer research questions about clinical problems that we face every day and that we know are important. The pandemic has led to a real crisis in senior's mental health, particularly in those who live in congregate settings like long-term care, who have been under a long period of restrictions. As a clinician-researcher, I feel it is my duty to use my skills and knowledge to try to find solutions to this problem and to be an advocate for older adults.

What inspires you in your day-to-day research/ clinical work and what is your definition of success in this field? 

I am inspired by two groups of people. First, I am inspired by my healthcare colleagues delivering quality care to people living with dementia on the Specialized Dementia Unit, in long-term care, and in the community, despite all of the system-level barriers they face. Second, I get a lot of inspiration from working with students and collaborating researchers. I feel I am constantly learning and growing in my interactions with them. For me, success is measured in people and relationships rather than publications. The pandemic has been a real challenge to figure out how to maintain and grow these relationships.

Can you comment on your scientific appointment with us at KITE?

An appointment as a Scientist at KITE is very meaningful to me. I owe a lot to the research environment, mentorship and collaborations at KITE for driving forward my research career. This appointment formalizes my relationship with KITE, and will allow me to pay back some of this support in kind.