Alexandra Jackson has spent years contributing to better health, fitness and rehabilitation, particularly with older adults. And she’s just getting started.
The PhD candidate (Health & Aging) at Queen’s University is also now working to serve the health needs of the homeless and vulnerable community while fostering student learning, with the assistance of a two-year research project for Research & Innovation.
As the project manager for Niagara College’s train-the-trainer foot care project, Jackson leads a team of health students, in collaboration with many other industry partners, to improve the foot-care needs for at-risk individuals.
“This project is very important and beneficial not only to the clients we are serving at the homeless shelters, but also to the students who are learning and providing the care and to the industry partners who are dedicating their time,”
The College collaborates with the Michener Institute of Education at the University Health Network and local community facilities and shelters to use a train-the-trainer model to educate and provide awareness of foot-care needs to vulnerable individuals.
Initially, the project focused on diabetes foot care, but the group wanted to be more inclusive, so it broadened its scope to not limit to one particular condition, explains Jackson.
“This project is very important and beneficial not only to the clients we are serving at the homeless shelters, but also to the students who are learning and providing the care and to the industry partners who are dedicating their time,” says Jackson.
“The students from various programs (paramedic, PSW, nursing, OTA/PTA) at Niagara College and chiropody students from The Michener Institute benefit as this is a unique placement opportunity where students, especially from NC, may not have otherwise been exposed to both foot care and the homeless population,” she says.
The clients at the homeless shelters are benefiting from having thorough foot assessments to identify foot issues they might be unaware they have. The student research team can triage care and connect them to resources that will benefit their health sustainably and practically.
“After many trials and tribulations throughout the pandemic with several COVID outbreaks at the shelter in St. Catharines halting our pilot, this program has been up and running for a very successful pilot over the last eight weeks,” says Jackson.
“Once we have streamlined this program, and near the end of the summer pilot, we aim to expand to additional REACH shelter locations in the fall with the addition of Niagara College and Michener Institute student placements for greater shelter support,” she adds. “With these additional students, we will be able to assess more shelter clients and provide in-depth learning opportunities in a train-the-trainer approach translating from Michener chiropody students to Niagara College health students from various programs.”
“I definitely enjoy keeping busy!”
The management of the health education project is only part of Jackson’s busy workload. She also juggles her doctoral research, works as a graduate research assistant at Queen’s, is a partial load professor for Sheridan College’s SSW Gerontology program, and assists with other projects at NC’s Centre for Health Wellness and Aging, including grant proposal writing.
“I definitely enjoy keeping busy!”
Helping to improve the health of others began for Jackson in 2014 when she graduated from the Kinesiology and Fitness & Health Promotion program (B.Sc.) at Guelph-Humber University. She worked for a few years in the fitness and recreation industry, teaching exercise classes and running summer camps for kids. Yet, she was also drawn to working with adults and had a hard time choosing one population.
“It wasn’t until I quickly learned that older adults are more willing to listen to you than children were, and that is what changed my mindset,” she laughs.
She switched gears to teaching seniors exercise classes and assisting her grandmother, who had multiple sclerosis (MS), with her physiotherapy-directed exercises. Jackson found her passion: working with older adults.
“I then took my recreational and fitness skills and applied for jobs at retirement homes to work in the programs department, where all the fun is had, and never looked back!” she recalls. “I became the manager of the recreation department at a Chartwell Retirement Residence and worked there for a few years until I decided to apply for my master’s degree in health and aging, and went back to school in 2017.”
“I am so glad I did because I feel my grandmother’s legacy living on through me and my research in MS.”
After graduating from Western University in 2019 (M.Sc. in Rehabilitation Sciences), Jackson applied to both University of Toronto for spinal cord injury research and Queen’s University for MS research. While she was accepted at both, she chose UofT.
“My grandmother passed in the fall of 2018 during my master’s thesis, and the devastation from the loss was more than I could bear, so I turned down studying MS as I didn’t think I could be reminded about it every day for four years of my doctoral and research career.”
However, after a year at Toronto and not being “100 per cent invested” in spinal cord injury research, she reconnected with Queen’s, who accepted her transfer. “I am so glad I did because I feel my grandmother’s legacy living on through me and my research in MS.”
She now has a greater appreciation for the research findings, the individuals with MS she has met, and the extensive research that has been accomplished in neuroscience and rehabilitation. Her doctoral research is related to home care progression for individuals aging with MS.
Even with a full plate, Jackson does make time for the great outdoors with her partner, with whom she recently purchased their first home together in Barrie. She’s able to do her work and studies remotely.
“We really enjoy the outdoors, and Barrie gives us that opportunity to explore and go hiking and be closer to nature,” she says. “We were both born and raised in the GTA and are loving this quieter lifestyle that still has a city feel to it.”
She also enjoys baking and has picked up the pandemic hobby of teaching herself piano. A “huge” fan of country music, she also eagerly awaits the return of live music.
“I was really hoping to see Rascal Flatts last summer – hopefully they will return, and I can get out there and dance the night away again soon!”