Scientist awarded funding for digital storytelling for caregivers of Indigenous adults with dementia

By Maggie Frampton

Dr. Janet McElhaney has received a Catalyst award from AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network, for new research that aims to support Indigenous families with dementia through digital storytelling.

Dr. McElhaney’s project, Understanding how to appropriately support Indigenous families with dementia through digital storytelling: a community-based approach, will introduce the technology as a way for caregivers to share their common experiences.

“Storytelling is a practice in Indigenous cultures that sustains communities, validates experiences and expresses experiences of Indigenous peoples, and nurtures relationships and the sharing of knowledge,” says Dr. McElhaney, Vice President of Research and Scientific Director at Health Sciences North Research Institute. “This project will help connect caregivers to enhance the caregiving experience with family members living with dementia.”

Community partners on the project are N’Mninoeyaa Indigenous Health Access Centre in Cutler, Ontario and File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council Health Services in Saskatchewan.

“This is an important and innovative research project that has strong potential to make a difference for families of people living with dementia,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director of AGE-WELL. The pan-Canadian network brings together researchers, community organizations, industry, older adults and caregivers to develop solutions to support healthy aging.

Dr. McElhaney hopes to see digital storytelling integrated into training sessions for caregivers and used as a tool to promote community-driven models of care that can help to address  emerging health issues related to dementia for Indigenous peoples in Canada.

“Indigenous populations in Canada are rapidly aging. Compared to non-Indigenous Canadians, dementia rates are reported to be 34% higher in Indigenous persons. This may be explained by the earlier onset of multiple chronic conditions that have been linked to increased risk for dementia,” says Dr. McElhaney.

Dr. McElhaney also holds the position of Health Sciences North Volunteer Association Research Chair in Healthy Aging, and is affiliated with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. She is grateful for the support from AGE-WELL for making this project a reality, and to the Health Sciences North Volunteer Association for its ongoing support.

AGE-WELL is a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence dedicated to the creation of technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers.

Maggie Frampton is a Communications Specialist at Health Sciences North.