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Inspiring a deeper commitment to aging

Lynn Zhu, PhD Candidate

Through every word Lynn Zhu speaks, she exudes passion. The PhD Candidate in Epidemiology and Biostatistics is committed to making a difference in the lives of older adults throughout Southwestern Ontario, whether it’s through her research on Parkinson’s disease and wearable sensors, or her leadership role with the Retiring With Strong Minds lecture series.

Zhu took time to sit down with us to discuss what keeps her motivated, and why her interest in the older adult community is so important to her.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in mainland China and moved around a lot when I was a child. I was partially raised in Hamilton, Toronto and also in China.

What is your education background?
I completed a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience, biology and health studies from the University of Toronto, and after that I went on to complete a master’s degree in health and rehabilitation sciences at Western University, specializing in health and aging.

What brought you to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
I actually started looking into Schulich Medicine & Dentistry when I started my Master’s degree, and even took some courses at the School during that time. I had always intended on doing a PhD in Epidemiology, and I knew the School had a great program.

Tell me about the research you are working on for your PhD.
My current project looks at individuals with Parkinson’s disease. I want to try to find ways to help improve the current mobility assessments using technology. I’m looking at using wearable sensors as a research tool to examine people’s mobility and to see what types of statistical measures we need in order to work with the large amount of data generated by this technology.

What is the potential impact or long-term goal of this research project?
With the rise in the use of wearable sensors, we can collect so much more data than before, and people actually have access to their own personal data too. I want to find ways to show that wearable sensors should be used in research within the clinical population and provide some analysis tools and results for other researchers to build upon using other kinds of wearable sensors.

Throughout this project, what opportunities have you had to meet or work with patients that your research could potentially affect?
For the study, I had to collect data in the homes of individuals with Parkinson’s around Southwestern Ontario, which showed me how important it is to meet the people that you’re doing research for. It’s definitely very motivating to be able to see that people are interested in the work you do, especially when it’s directly related to them. You get to know how the disease affects these people on a more personal basis, which has given me more confidence in the work I am doing.

You're connected to working with the older population through your research, and through your extracurricular activities as well. Why did you choose to get involved with Retiring With Strong Minds, a sub-committee of Strong Bones, Strong Minds, Strong Muscles (SBSMSM)?
I always wanted to do something outside of studying and I liked the community engagement aspect that SBSMSM offered. I was fortunate to join SBSMSM when it was just getting started, so it was great timing because I had a lot of say in the direction we went in. The group wanted to engage the older adult community, so myself and another student took the reigns. Because of my training and my connections with the aging population already, it was easier for me to establish ties with the retirement homes.

The Retiring With Strong Minds sub-committee runs a monthly research seminar series for older adults living in a retirement home within the London community. We recruit a group of graduate students conducting research from all disciplines across Western. Every month a few of them give research talks about what they’re working on, and why they’re involved in research.

Getting involved with this was important to me because so often there is no connection outside of academia within the community. I thought this would be a great way to connect these groups of people as a way to create dialogue and inspire a deeper commitment to aging.

You received the Margery Boyce Bursary from the Canadian Association on Gerontology for the work you have done with Retiring With Strong Minds. How did it feel to be recognized for your contributions to the community?
I felt very honoured, of course. The support I have received at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and in the London community has been wonderful — everything from the nomination for this bursary to how successful the program has been. I also felt very grateful to be recognized by the biggest association for gerontology in of Canada. It was motivating and encouraging for me.

It seems like you are incredibly passionate about working with the older adult community. What is the reason behind the commitment to this specific group?
We’re all going to get older and I recognize that older adults are often times very misunderstood, especially in the health care field. I think they are marginalized to an extent, and not enough attention is being placed on how to support them better. It’s a motivating field to be working in when you see how your research or extra curricular work is making an impact on their lives.

Do you have any specific career or research goals for yourself?
I want to be an academic, but also work in the field of public health — I’m actively looking for an avenue to merge the two. With my training I’m technically an epidemiologist, which allows me to study the health and disease status of populations. I would like to work with populations on a greater level. I would love to be able to make a dent in the field of epidemiology and keep a collaborative relationship with Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

What have you enjoyed most about your time spent at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry?
Through SBSMSM, I have had the opportunity to meet people across Schulich Medicine & Dentistry that are very motivated to engage others. We kind of feed off of each other’s energy, and I’m thankful I’ve had the change to get to know people who are very passionate about the work they are doing.