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Making a Difference: U of R Students assist in rural Saskatchewan dementia support

09 May 2024
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Dementia Supports in Rural Saskatchewan (DSRS) is a project team dedicated to initiatives that improve the lives of those living with dementia. The DSRS team is made up of three groups: the Backbone Management Group (BMG) consisting of U of R Faculty members; the Advisory Committee (AC); and Collaborating Organizations (CO).

The U of R Faculty members in the Backbone Management Group include Dr. Bonnie Jeffery as Project Lead, Dr. Tom McIntosh, Dr. Nuelle Novik, Dr. Akram Mahani, and Dr. Nancy Akwen as Evaluation Coordinator. In addition, U of R undergraduate and graduate students support the BMG team.

Their current project, Interventions to Enhance Social Inclusion of Older Adults with Dementia in Saskatchewan, is a five-year federally funded project that aims to tackle the barriers confronting those older adults living with dementia, in rural Saskatchewan, as well as their care partners.

Projects like this are so incredibly important because they show how necessary it is to treat people like people, and the essential value of social inclusion and belonging. — Rochelle Berenyi, 3rd-year psychology student, Faculty of Science

The project includes eight sub-projects, each addressing specific challenges facing rural communities. Sub-projects range from evaluating business and community services to launching public awareness campaigns. Additionally, some of the sub-projects incorporate creative initiatives like producing a documentary film, implementing programs that combine nutrition risk reduction strategies with communal cooking and social activities, and much more.

Three individuals smiling for the camera
The Backbone Management Group [Pictured L-R] Dr. Bonnie Jeffery, Project Lead, Faculty of Social Work & SPHERU, U of R-Prince Albert Campus; Dr. Tom McIntosh, Faculty of Arts Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies), Politics and International Studies & SPHERU, U of R, and Dr. Nuelle Novik, Faculty of Social Work & SPHERU, University of Regina. [Not pictured] Dr. Akram Mahani Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy & SPHERU, U of R; Evaluation Coordinator Dr. Nancy Akwen SPHERU, U of R; and, Project Coordinator Sue McGee, SPHERU, U of R. Photo courtesy U of R Photography

Project Coordinator

Being a project coordinator is no easy feat, but it’s a role U of R’s Sue McGee relishes.

Armed with a Bachelor of Health Studies, a Health System Management Certificate from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS), and a current pursuit of a JSGS Public Management Certificate, McGee is determined to make an impact on the Saskatchewan health-care system.

“The prospect of learning from industry experts and engaging in practical placements fills me with excitement,” says McGee.

As project coordinator – or behind-the-scenes superhero – McGee oversees all the DSRS sub-projects to ensure they align with the set goals and objectives. From monitoring financial reporting requirements to the event logistics of a film debut, the hands-on learning experience McGee gains through this role, equips her with the necessary skills to achieve her future career goals.

Along with the practical experience this opportunity offers, McGee is personally dedicated to the project’s mission of improving the lives of those with dementia. Her own mother was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia in 2022 after years of uncertainty and countless trips to the ER. Drawing from her firsthand experience, she knew she could contribute something invaluable to the project: a profound empathy.

As a graduate student, McGee believes working on meaningful projects is the purpose of higher education. She encourages students to put themselves out there and look for research projects that can give them the experience and knowledge to do this kind of important work.

Two empty chairs facing a television
From January 2022 – May 2023, lead Artists Alana Moore and Amber Phelps Bondaroff worked closely with a community of 12 artists from Yorkton and surrounding areas whose lives have been impacted by dementia. The project culminated in a major gallery exhibition at the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery that showcased a range of multigenerational and multidisciplinary artworks including drawing, painting, photography, filmmaking, storytelling, music, musical theatre, woodworking, sculpture, and fabric art. Participating artists shown on the monitor are Twila Napoleoni & Jeanette Haberstock. Photo courtesy Godfrey Dean Art Gallery

Student Researcher

“Not only have I gained a lot of relevant research skills, but I’ve also been able to learn so much about dementia and the benefits of the collective impact projects,” says Rochelle Berenyi, a third-year psychology student in the Faculty of Science.

Berenyi was initially drawn to the project because of her interest in mental health, but what really stood out to her was the value of the project's Collective Impact Approach. Instead of one large project, this approach uses different sub-projects to maximize their impact, targeting dementia-related barriers at individual, community, and organizational levels.

As an undergraduate research assistant, Berenyi supported the team at the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU) in the evaluation stages of the research project. This included analyzing interview and focus group transcripts, gathering and summarizing data from activity reports, and assisting with generating reports.

Working on this project and learning about the experiences of those living with dementia, their care partners, or the project facilitators was eye-opening and deeply moving for Berenyi.

“Projects like these are so incredibly important because they show how necessary it is to treat people like people, and the essential value of social inclusion and belonging,” says Berenyi.

See it on screen

One of the DSRS sub-projects produced a documentary film called, Belong Where You Find Yourself.

Artists Alana Moore and Amber Phelps Bondaroff use the art of storytelling to share the personal experiences of 12 artists from Yorkon and the surrounding areas, who have been impacted by dementia.

Reflecting on the impact she has seen the film, and other sub-projects have on the community members, its clear to McGee that tools like the documentary tell stories of people's lives and what they leave behind for all of us to learn.

Discover how you can make a meaningful difference. Check out the Research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students available through Student Research.

Don’t miss these free screenings of Belong Where You Find Yourself.

Saturday, May 11, 2024 – 1:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Sherbrooke Community Centre
401 Acadia Drive, Saskatoon, SK

Friday, June 14, 2024 – 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Yorkton & District Nursing Home – Chapel
200 Bradbrooke Drive, Yorkton, SK

Saturday, June 15, 2024 – 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Yorkton Public Library
93 Broadway Street W, Yorkton, SK

Banner Photo: Photo courtesy of iStock

About the University of Regina

2024 marks our 50th anniversary as an independent University (although our roots as Regina College date back more than a century!). As we celebrate our past, we work towards a future that is as limitless as the prairie horizon. We support the health and well-being of our 16,700 students and provide them with hands-on learning opportunities to develop career-ready graduates. Our research enterprise has grown to include 21 research centres and 12 Canada Research Chairs and brings in more than $51.2 million in funding annually. Our campuses are on Treaties 4 and 6 - the territories of the nêhiyawak, Anihšināpēk, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda peoples, and the homeland of the Michif/Métis nation. We seek to grow our relationships with Indigenous communities to build a more inclusive future.

Let’s go far, together.

Belong Where You Find Yourself

For more information on the film screening, and the Interventions to Enhance Social Inclusion of Older Adults with Dementia in Saskatchewan research project, check out their website, Dementia Supports in Rural Saskatchewan.

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