Meet Marie Savundranayagam, a passionate and ground-breaking researcher on dementia in Canada

Marie Savundranayagam is the Director of the Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research Unit at Western University, a gerontologist and an associate professor. She is associate editor of the journal Clinical Gerontologist, definitely a foodie and an avid runner.

The care of persons with dementia is considered an urgent public-health issue as nearly 30 per cent of older Canadians will have dementia by 2031. In 2008, 55 per cent of Canadians with dementia lived at home – a number projected to increase to 62 per cent by 2038.

Adela Talbot, Western News

Dr. Savundranayagam conducts research that impacts how we care for persons living with dementia and their care partners. She created Be EPIC, a person-centered communication training program for dementia-focused health care workers.

What do you love most about your job? 

It gives me the opportunity to make an impact on three groups: students, people living with dementia and their caregivers.

I love the autonomy that goes with being a university professor and researcher. It allows me to conduct creative research projects that positively impact people.

I’ve been mindful of the value of representation among university professors and researchers and what it means for students to see themselves in the roles I occupy. I love mentoring my students and seeing them in successful positions after graduation.

What advice do you have for women forging their career paths in the same field?

Take the initiative to seek out opportunities to engage in research. This will lead to mentors who will offer you opportunities. Be prepared before meeting a potential mentor.

(Tamil Women Rising: Here’s a great article on how to find and nurture mentors.)

What are three skills young people in your field need to succeed?

Writing, speaking and analytical skills – these are essential.

Learning by doing is my motto. Here’s a story that comes to mind: Recently I gave a talk to a Japanese-speaking audience along with a live translator. I quickly learned to take more pauses and use more nonverbal communication to accompany what I was saying. Reading about presenting is helpful but it has to be accompanied by practice or doing.

What is your favourite life hack?

I prioritise physical exercise every morning. It’s a daily deposit I put toward my physical health, which I know will positively impact my daily mental health. Generally, it’s a 30-minute high-intensity interval workout.

I’m a big fan of two Beachbody trainers: Shaun T (and his Insanity series) and Amoila Caesar (who created 645, 6 days a week for 45 min).

Back in the day when I was doing my PhD, I became a fitness instructor. It was the most unexpected thing because I don’t see myself as sporty, but fitness training was different. I really liked it. It’s also what helped me learn how to ski in midlife and face all my fears of falling and hurting myself.

Where can people find you online?

I’m on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @marie_y_s
Click here for more on the Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research Unit at Western University.