Forging international links, sharing ideas and developing friendships to build research collaborations

Dr Jenni Burton (@JenniKBurton) from the University of Edinburgh and Dr Patrick Wachholz (@Patrick23711608) from Sao Paulo State University joined 12 researchers from across the UK and 17 from across Brazil to participate in a Newton Fund researcher links workshop: ‘Identifying and addressing shared challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people’, held between the 11th-15th of June in Botucatu, Brazil. The workshop was funded by the British Council and the Sao Paulo State Research Foundation (FAPESP) and organised by the University of Nottingham and UNESP.

Over the course of five days we worked together under the supervision of our Brazilian and UK mentors (Prof Alessandro Ferrari Jacinto, Prof Paulo Villas Boas, Prof Vanessa Citero, Dr Adam Gordon, Prof Tom Dening & Dr Jay Banerjee) to share ideas, learn from each other and work on developing new collaborative research projects.

To set the scene, Brazil is the largest country in South America with an estimated population of 16 million adults aged 65 and over. Sao Paulo State has a population of 41 million people and is the most economically and research active state in Brazil with 34% of the GDP. Amazing stat of the week was that for every four research papers published in Latin America, two will be authored in Sao Paulo State!

Our group were diverse in professional and research backgrounds including geriatricians, psychiatrists, nurses, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, epidemiologists, psychologists and physiologists. This provided opportunities to learn about new methodological approaches to the priority research questions we identified in our small groups which focused on end of life care in dementia; frailty identification; long-term care and dementia diagnosis, care and management.

Jenni reflects, “Our brief visit to the hospital provided a valuable snapshot of the lived challenges facing health and care providers in Brazil. I was struck by how despite the differences in economic and social context, we share so many of the same challenges in how best to care for an increasingly aged and frail population. The freedom of getting away from usual surroundings and meeting other people to discuss caring for older people was invigorating.”

“For early career researchers, the opportunity to engage in collaborative research networks and built long-lasting research collaborations that may foster international exchange is remarkable. In these five days, the experience and skills of the mentors melted with the yearnings and readiness of the researchers. While discussing and addressing common challenges and perspectives for older people research between UK and Brazil, distance and language barriers did not seem to be troublesome, so we shared more than knowledge: we shared the hope to meet again one day”, says Patrick.

Immediate outcomes from the workshop included sharing useful resources and encouraging some group members to join the growing ageing research community on Twitter. We even managed to feature on the Brazilian Geriatrics Society Website. The longer-term impact will rely on the friendships forged and the collaborations which arise – watch this space…

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