Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Linking experiential learning in homecare to vascular cognitive impairment research

February 2nd, 2023
Harmony Bright-Doucette

Contributing to our Health -- A Series About StFX Research Making A Difference In Our Communities

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Contributing to our Health series

Seeing words in a textbook describing someone with dementia forgetting how to cook is a very different experience than being with someone and watching them forget how to cook. ~ StFX student Harmony Bright-Doucette

Meet Harmony Bright-Doucette:

Linking experiential learning in homecare to vascular cognitive impairment research

Seeing words in a textbook describing someone with dementia forgetting how to cook is a very different experience than being with someone and watching them forget how to cook and how to do other daily tasks, says Harmony Bright-Doucette, a second year Health student who spent last summer working on an innovative research project. 

Working under the supervision of StFX psychology professor Dr. Erin Mazerolle and in partnership with the Theresa Cremo Memorial Health Centre, Ms. Bright-Doucet participated in an innovative pilot project, supported by the Vascular Training (VAST) Platform and StFX Service Learning, in which she did an experiential learning placement at the centre in her home community of We’koqma’q First Nation, NS, linking experiential learning in homecare to vascular cognitive impairment research. 

Ms. Bright-Doucette, who plans to go on to medical school after finishing her undergraduate degree with the aim of working back in her home community, linked research to observations she made through serving as a home care provider via guided reflections with Dr. Mazerolle. 

“I learned skills to find evidence related to my observations, which helped me contextualize my homecare experiences,” says Ms. Bright-Doucette who did some light housekeeping and kept company with a client who has dementia, with whom she formed a strong relationship.

Weekly, Ms. Bright-Doucette also met with her research mentor Dr. Mazerolle to discuss and reflect on her experiences. Together, they would expand her reflections and identify research related to her experiences. 

“I learned much about how VCI impacts patients and what it looks like firsthand compared to seeing it in a textbook. For example, I observed my homecare client’s behaviour change after consuming sugar and did a literature search to try to understand the mechanism of this observation. Lastly, I learned a lot about my interests in this area and became motivated to study VCI and brain aging further. This pilot program demonstrated that experiential learning allows trainees to form a deeper understanding of the real-life problems that research has the potential to solve,” she says.

Throughout the summer placement, Ms. Bright-Doucette says she and her client would spend much time talking and sharing stories.  

She says her client would also do things where she’d notice some dementia behavior, and you don’t know why this is happening. 

“It generated a lot of thought into dementia,” she says. 

“The brain is just a complex thing. This one organ can do so much and be so much.”

Ms. Bright-Doucette presented her experiences to an online VAST symposium, and she and her faculty mentor are looking at producing a paper on Two-Eyed Seeing in dementia. They are hoping to share their stories in research articles in a more qualitative approach. 

Along with meeting weekly with Dr. Mazerolle, the two would also meet with other students working with Dr. Mazerolle, talking through each other’s projects. 

“I learned so much doing it,” Ms. Bright-Doucette says on the overall experience. 

“It really opened a lot of doors to me.”

Ms. Bright-Doucette says the experience introduced her to new ideas and other faculty and student researchers. Already, she is working with StFX sociology professor Dr. Katie Aubrecht to set up a research project for next summer looking at mental health and additions and traditional Mi’kmaq ways of healing particularly in terms of mental health. 

As for this project’s impact? Ms. Bright-Doucette says she hopes more researchers will consider experiential learning or a hands-on based approach. She is hoping too it will help home care workers gain a better understanding on how to treat and communicate with someone with dementia. 

She says for her personally, seeing her client’s day become better really motivated her to become a better person toward helping people. She says she also hopes the experience shows other Indigenous students that they can do research and they can add their own interest to that work. 

In only her second year at StFX, she says “it’s encouraged me to get on the research train.” 

At StFX, Ms. Bright-Doucette is an active member of the university community. She works as an Indigenous Student Peer Mentor, is the Indigenous representative on the StFX Students’ Union, serves as secretary to the Indigenous Student Society, and is VP of the Equity and Inclusion Committee for the Health Society. 

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