Beautiful Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, is the home of The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR). The state of Queensland (also known as the sunshine state) has one of the largest populations of older adults in Australia. UQCCR is a centre of excellence focusing on person-centred research to improve the lives of individuals with brain injuries, including older adults with neurocognitive disorders. Dr. Nadeeka Dissanayaka is the director of the Neuro Mental Health Group developing Virtual Reality (VR) interventions to alleviate psychological symptoms affecting individuals with Parkinson’s disease and neurocognitive disorders. It was the perfect match from day one: Dr. Dissanayaka’s philosophy clearly intersects with AGE-WELL values of transdisciplinarity and stakeholder involvement in technology development. We clearly share the same objective of working towards the improvement of health outcomes in underserved populations and we are fully aware of the importance of technological solutions to develop treatments for cognitive and mental disorders in older adults with and without neurocognitive disorders. They made me feel like part of their team from day one. Through an ACCESS award, AGE-WELL made possible my participation in a 2-week intensive exchange leading to an international collaboration.
As a center of excellence, UQCCR welcomes scientists across the globe with security protocols and regulations during the visit. I was a full staff member with access to the resources and facilities at the University of Queensland during my stay. I had the chance to participate in different clinical and academic activities. For instance, I attended the Movement Disorders Clinic, as well as the Memory Clinic with experienced clinicians, such as Dr. Robert Adam (Neurologist) at the Geriatric Assessment & Rehabilitation Unit (GARU) and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. In addition, we have developed an international collaboration for a systematic review of the use of VR in neurocognitive disorders involving specialists in VR, engineering, biomedical and clinical sciences. We worked closely with a librarian at the Health Sciences library and formed an international team to work in the coming months.
Part of the visit involved the participation in lectures delivered by UQCCR researchers about the “Behavioural and psychological complications in age-related brain disease” (Dr. Nadeeka Dissanayaka) and the “Neural activity during emotion processing and its relationship to depression and cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease: An EEG study” (Dr. Nadeeka Dissanayaka and Dr. Kartik Iyer). The high level of the research conducted at UQCCR stimulates discussions and shows evidence of a real collaborative research environment. I was an invited speaker at UQCCR and delivered a lecture on the importance of person-centred intervention priorities in neurorehabilitation. My talk initiated a discussion about the necessity to develop person-centred intervention tools for post-acute neurorehabilitation in Australia.
I was also exposed to the local grant application system, the lab meetings, the informal discussions following the scientific conferences, and even the preparations for Christmas celebrations. I appreciated my last day having the opportunity to participate with different stakeholders taking decisions together about the logo to be used in one of the projects, the participation in recordings to be used in VR interventions, and more importantly, the integration of the community at different stages of the research (i.e., with the community and for the community). Brisbanites are welcoming people and they are very proud of their city and their country. During the hot days, they enjoy the barbecues and go to the most beautiful beaches in the world (Gold Coast region). Even if Canadians and Brisbanites go through different climate challenges, they face similar realities including the aging of the population and the need to work as a society to meet older adults’ needs.
I left Australia with several learning experiences, new professional relationships, innovative ideas, and plans to visit UQCCR in another opportunity. UQCCR members made me feel like home from the very beginning and I thank them for their hospitality and support. In an interview, the Lions Medical Research Foundation captured this experience and its potential impact in the future (https://lionsmedicalresearchfoundation.org.au/news/international-collaboration).