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Dr. Mohammad Auais

School of Rehabilitation Therapy research spotlight: from robots to mental health

This content originally appeared in the School of Rehabilitation’s research report. This is the first in a two-part series. 

The School of Rehabilitation Therapy’s (SRT) programs of research help advance understanding of the influence of development, health, illness and injury on the control, learning, recovery and integration of goal-directed movement in meaningful functional activities across the lifespan. 

Learn about some of the School's researchers’ recent milestones and ongoing work: 

Dr. Heather Aldersey: Redefining the Social Contract: Rebalancing Formal and Natural Support for People with Disabilities and their Families 

Dr. Heather Aldersey implemented this research project funded by SSHRC Partnership Development Grants. Through partnerships between academic and family researchers and community organizations, this study develops a deep understanding of three Canadian organizations seeking a balance of supports for people with disabilities and their families, whereby (a) formal supports do not undermine or usurp the critical role of natural supports and (b) families and other natural supports do not feel overburdened by support responsibilities.  The study develops an understanding of intentional rebalancing of formal and natural supports of the partner organizations to inform a broader renegotiation of the social contract in favour of families in Canada, explores what a national infrastructure that incentivizes and values natural supports could look like, and supports disability advocates and community organizations to apply study findings within their efforts for social policy change. Now in its initial year, the research team has commenced data collection and looks forward to engaging in participatory analysis and knowledge mobilization in the months to come.   

Dr. Beata Batorowicz: Robots, AI and Human Machine Interfaces in Augmented and Alternative Communication for Children with Neuromotor Disabilities  

Drs. Batorowicz and Sidney Givigi (Queen’s School of Computing) are collaborating to study how robotics and artificial intelligence can support participation of children and youth with disabilities.  In a research project funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund — Exploration, they are working together with an interdisciplinary team spanning multiple academic units (Drs. Clare Davies — Engineering, Nicholas Graham — Computing, Jordan Shurr — Education, and Tracy Trothen — Religion) to explore technology use in peer interactions of children with motor and speech impairments who use communication aids. The aim of this project is to model, better understand, and enhance pragmatic reasoning in children with neuromotor disabilities by providing them with increased control of their environment through collaborative play using advanced robotic technology.   

Dr. Heidi Cramm:  Focusing on Families of Military Members, Veterans and Public Safety Personnel  

Dr. Heidi Cramm’s research focuses on improving the health and well-being of families of military members, veterans, and public safety personnel, a methodologically and theoretically complex subject of study. These families face unique health needs that are poorly recognized, understood, or resourced. She consolidated her program of research under the banner of the Families Matter Research Group. Dr. Cramm is leading multiple research studies, one of which is a SSHRC-funded partnership development grant to activate a formal partnership of partners for those who serve, study, and support the families of military, veteran, and public safety personnel. Another project, funded through a CIHR Team Grant, is focused on enhancing mental wellness in families of public safety personnel.   

Dr. Mohammad Auais: Nordic Walking to Manage Falls and Fear of Falling  

Each year, more than one-third of older adults in Canada experience a fall. Exercise is one of the most effective interventions to reduce fall risk and fear of falling (FOF). However, current fall-prevention exercise programs are expensive and lack good adherence. Nordic Walking (NW; i.e., walking with poles) is a pleasant, low-risk, low-tech, and inexpensive alternative exercise program.  Yet, the effect of NW on reducing risk and FOF has not yet been tested.  This study will be a two-arm, parallel, single-blind, randomized controlled pilot trial to test an NW program’s feasibility and safety among community-dwelling older adults at risk of falling. The research team will recruit 40 older adults at risk of falling and randomly assign them into one of two groups:  a 10-week NW intervention group or an attention control group. The intervention will consist of both independent (unsupervised) and group (supervised) sessions that apply coaching principles.  This project brings together Dr. Mohammad Auais, as the primary investigator, and Drs. Dorothy Kessler, Catherine Donnelly, and Vincent DePaul as co-investigators. Read a feature on his work.

Dr. Megan Edgelow:  Examining Workplace Mental Health Interventions  

Workplace mental health is relevant to public safety organizations due to the exposure many public safety personnel (PSP) have to psychological trauma in the course of their daily work. While the importance of attending to PSP mental health has been established, the implementation of workplace mental health interventions is not as well understood. This research team conducted a scoping review, using JBI methodology, that found 89 relevant citations that were largely published within the last decade, most frequently from Western nations, and most often applied to police, followed by firefighters. Interventions focused most often on stress management and resilience, and a frequent implementation strategy was multi-session group training. Comprehensive quality-improvement initiatives, a focus on supervisors and managers, and interventions across primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention were infrequent. A focus across a range of PSP, including paramedics, corrections officers, and emergency dispatchers, using implementation strategies beyond group training, is suggested. Further research is needed to establish which programs and implementation strategies are most effective so that PSP get the full benefit of mental health prevention and treatment programs within the workplace. 

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