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Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Leigh Hayden

Jul 13, 2021
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Dr. Leigh Hayden is a project coordinator in the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research (CER). She is a successful recipient of an Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19 research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for her research, “Addressing Food Security Among Isolated Older Adults During COVID-19".  

Here, Dr. Hayden delves into her research and broader interests, and the personal passions that underpin her work.

Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on? Headshot of Dr. Leigh Hayden

Dr. Hayden: In partnership with Food for Life and Community Development Halton, CER is currently helping to improve the food packages that their older adults are receiving, changing it from a simple food package to more of a wellness package. We’re now collecting the follow-up surveys from this group to learn about the impact of our work. I’m also digging into the analysis of our Pandemic Stories project, when CER and Sheridan professor Dr. Ferzana Chaze interviewed older adults throughout the pandemic to document its impact on this group. 

Finally, I’m also working with Acclaim Health to develop an evaluation framework for their immersive room, which includes 180-degree projection with surround-sound audio in order to create a sensation of virtual reality, without the headset. Acclaim Health is opening their new dementia care centre this fall and it will include an “immersive room” for their adult day program. It’s an interesting project and I’m excited to support innovation in dementia care.

Why are you interested in this area of research?

Dr. Hayden: Applied research on ageing is fulfilling on many levels. First, we get to work with community partners, industry, and a cadre of talented Sheridan faculty and students to support important work and be part of positive change in the community. We get to see the impact of our work in obvious ways, which most researchers desire, but few experience. 

Secondly, as an anthropologist, I find ageing fascinating. Ageing provides an opportunity to see the world in perspective and with compassion. It also provides an opportunity to accept and explore vulnerability and physical decline - in ourselves and others. This requires courage and humor. 

Finally, my research into aging intersects with an array of other disciplines – from technology, to media, to agriculture - and these collaborations really push me to be a better communicator and thinker, and to expand my perceptions of what’s possible.

What does research mean to you?

Dr. Hayden: I like doing cool things with cool people! Research allows me to do that. Research is a powerful vehicle for collective discovery and can often reveal more of what you don’t know than what you do know – so there is always opportunity for more learning and growing.

What is next for you?

Dr. Hayden: I wonder how we can harness the collective energy to address the social ills that the pandemic has revealed. Many of the older adults we interviewed spoke at length about their desire to help shift things. In fact, some even expressed a shift in themselves during the pandemic. How can we move from individual transformative experiences to collective ones? 

Dr. Leigh Hayden is a project coordinator at Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research (CER). CER is one of Sheridan's six Research and Incubation Centres and conducts leading edge research in the field of ageing by examining innovative ways to enhance the well-being of older adults and the environments that support them. Dr. Hayden is a medical anthropologist who obtained her doctorate from McMaster University. She is interested in how culture shapes aging and caregiving. She has considerable experience working in academic hospitals specializing in Knowledge Translation – applying research knowledge to improve people's lives.

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