KITE trainee earns EPIC-AT Health Research Training Platform Fellowship

This one-year fellowship is given to trainees and early career researchers studying and developing digital health solutions for older adults with complex health needs

Dr. Raheleh Saryazdi, a postdoctoral fellow at the KITE Research Institute, has received the 2022 EPIC-AT Health Research Training Platform Fellowship.

This one-year fellowship is awarded to trainees and early career researchers studying, developing and implementing digital health solutions to support older adults with complex health needs to support living  with independence and dignity in the home of their choice. 

In addition to providing salary support, EPIC-AT provides recipients the opportunity to train and gain experience in transdisciplinary working, stakeholder engagement and co-creation, the research-policy dynamic, the innovation and implementation process while also receiving guidance from multi-sectoral mentors. 

“This fellowship is more than just funding, it’s about laying the foundation for a long-lasting career,” said Dr. Saryazdi, who is a member of the Multisensory Integration in Virtual Environments (MIVE) Laboratory.

“They’re really taking the time to get to know me and my needs so they can match me with mentors who can help me grow as a researcher and achieve my goals.” 

Dr. Saryazdi’s project seeks to facilitate and enhance communication between persons with dementia and their family care partners through the use of a virtual reality intervention.

People living with dementia and their care partners will be provided virtual reality headsets to use at home which they will use to jointly experience an event such as a trip to another country or concert. Dr. Saryazdi and her team will collect a comprehensive set of measures that assess communication, well-being, and quality of life.

The frequency and quality of communication from people living with dementia tends to decline as their symptoms progress, which can lead to loneliness and a lower quality-of-life for them and their family care partners, said Dr. Saryazdi. 

“I’m hoping that virtual reality therapy can be used as a feasible and effective non-pharmacological solution that can improve the well-being of persons living with dementia and their care partners by facilitating communication between them,” said Dr. Saryazdi, who is being supervised by Dr. Jennifer Campos. KITE Senior Scientist, Associate Director Academic, and the Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Multisensory Integration and Aging.

“I’m working closely with our community partners, Acclaim Health and Circle of Care, to develop this intervention. In the future I also want to work with industry partners to really optimize this technology for older adults. Although virtual reality has become more affordable it’s not necessarily designed for the older adult population.”

A pilot study was completed over the summer in collaboration with Dr. Lora Appel and a long-term project will commence in October. Data collection is expected to be completed in 2023. 

Dr. Saryazdi is one of 23 individuals awarded EPIC-AT Fellowships from across Canada this year.

Powered by AGE-WELL and hosted at the University of Toronto, EPIC-AT is funded by the CIHR Health Research Training Platform Program. A national training platform, it provides funded Fellowships and training to graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early career researchers.