Dr. Jennifer Bethell
Dr. Jennifer Bethell is using her passion for data analysis to prevent dementia. Working with the Canadian Consortium of Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), she is putting patient engagement at the forefront of dementia research. (Photo: Courtesy Jennifer Bethell)

Dr. Jennifer Bethell has always had a passion for data. Now, she's using what she knows to help people living with dementia.

Dr. Bethell recently joined the research team at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI) as an epidemiologist. She is the first new scientist to join TRI since the hospital's research facility was renamed the KITE Research Institute.

"One of the most fulfilling parts of my job is working collaboratively with people with dementia," she told UHN News. "They help make the research better, set real priorities and challenge the stigma associated with it."

The need for a better understanding of dementia is more important now than ever before, she says.

It's estimated that more than half a million Canadians live with some form of dementia. And that number is expected to balloon to 937,000 by 2031, according to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada.

Dr. Bethell's research areas of focus include using data to prevent disease and involving people with lived experience in the research process. She hopes involving patients in her research will lead to improved healthcare outcomes.

"Involving the people we are trying to help in our research seems like the obvious thing to do. When you look at the number of Canadians impacted by dementia, you realize it's a really important topic to address."

Dr. Bethell's journey at Toronto Rehab started two years ago, when she completed her post-doctoral research fellowship with a focus on patient engagement in research. She holds a Master's degree in biostatistics and a PhD in epidemiology and has worked on a diverse set of projects, including research on opioids, suicide and dementia.

She says she's excited to continue to be able to conduct research as a member of Toronto's diverse medical research community.

Doing so would not be possible without the support of government partnership and on June 17, the Canadian Consortium of Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA) announced the renewal of Phase II of the National Dementia Strategy.

As a member of the CCNA team, Dr. Bethell will help lead the prominent patient engagement project by building opportunities to enable patient engagement across the consortium.

"KITE is about making impact. I'm excited to be a part of the team of researchers that does just that and I'm thrilled to be back at Toronto Rehab at UHN."

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