Daniela Figueiredo is an integrated researcher of the group AgeingC, of CINTESIS – Center for Health Technology and Services Research, at the University of Aveiro (Health Sciences School), where she is an Assistant Professor.
She is also the principal investigator of the project Together We Stand – Promoting adherence in end-stage renal disease through a family-based self-management intervention, funded by POCH – Portugal 2020 and the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), which started in June 2018 and runs until June 2021.
She was born in April 1975, in Aveiro, where she did his entire student path until the 12th grade. She completed the Degree in Educational Sciences from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Coimbra in 2000. She then returned to Aveiro, where she did an internship in Adult Education and Training at the University of Aveiro, worked as a research assistant in the area of Gerontology, and started teaching.
“Everything happened without too much planning. I followed my heart. Today it is with great satisfaction that I work and undertake research in the field of education and training of adults, in particular adults of advanced age. The older population has always attracted me,” she says.
In 2007, she earned her PhD in Health Sciences from the University of Aveiro with a thesis in the field of Gerontology, in which she compared the impact of caring for elderly people with or without dementia on family caregivers. Thereafter, her interest focused on understanding the determinants and psychosocial impacts of chronic illness on the family system.
In the last 10 years, as a CINTESIS researcher, first at ICBAS and then at the University of Aveiro center, her main focus has been on family-centered psychosocial interventions, namely in situations of dementia, respiratory diseases, and end-stage chronic kidney disease.
“Chronic illness requires a restructuring and reorganization of family life. There are a number of variables that can facilitate or hinder this readjustment, such as the degree of disability, the family’s resources. If we can help to express the emotions of dealing with chronic and demanding conditions, there will be more life beyond the disease,” she believes.
As the leader of Together We Stand, Daniela Figueiredo explains that the objectives of the project are to provide support and promote the adaptation, in particular, of chronic kidney patients and their families to the profound changes that occur in their lives.
According to the researcher, “kidney disease is very heavy and brings many challenges, but almost nobody talks about it! Hemodialysis implies very profound changes in the daily management of patients and their families. The frequency of sessions requires frequent trips to dialysis centers. Changes in diet are necessary, care with fluid intake and physical exercise. It is worth taking up the challenge of following these types of approaches that facilitate the adaptation of patients and their families, in the context of renal rehabilitation.”
One of the works developed within the scope of this project, which has already won a prize, points to the need for more information. “There are many doubts about the transplant, which people see as the Holy Grail of chronic kidney disease. There are doubts about the eligibility criteria, the conditions for becoming a donor, life after the transplant. It is also necessary to demystify dialysis on vacation,” she warns.
According to Daniela Figueiredo, “patients and their families are aware of the care to be taken with their fistula (vascular access), the route by which dialysis is performed, but there are other cares to which patients are not so sensitive, such as, for example, how much weight they can carry. Having that kind of information gives them a sense of security and control that is important.”
With the emergence of COVID-19, the project had to adapt. Knowing the impact of the pandemic on this at-risk population is now essential, especially since the researcher fears a worsening of inequality.
“We are considering alternatives and new formats, guaranteeing everyone’s safety, and continuing with our purpose. But of course, we have not stopped! Results will soon come out about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these patients and their families. I fear that some inequalities may worsen and that, above all, people who are more dependent, less differentiated, and less able to access technology may be at a disadvantage. I am convinced that platforms help a lot, but that they do not replace face-to-face contact,” she comments.
It is not so much an ambition as a desire for things to return to normal. I wish this from a personal and professional point of view. From a professional point of view, one of the ambitions is to carry out this project, even with different outlines than initially planned, with results that can be promising and that effectively bring more well-being to these patients and their families and that can help health professionals to rethink how this type of support can translate into health gains
I want to continue working in this line of research, with these patients, in renal rehabilitation. Above all, I would like to continue to have the opportunity to investigate and continue to train more and better based on what we are discovering. I would also like to contribute to a closer look at the psychosocial determinants of health and disease, along with biomedical issues, and that this translates into interventions and clinical practice that meets an integrated perspective of people with chronic illness. There is an important path to be taken in this regard.
Life Beyond Research
I try to make the most of my time with my four-year-old daughter. I like to be with her, to play with her. Every day I learn from my daughter about the world and about myself. This is one of the things that gives me the most happiness. I also appreciate everything that is simple: going with the family to a terrace, watching the children playing, being able to be with friends and family, traveling without worrying about GPS or watches, reading biography and comedy books, listening to music, and humming. I used to sign in a gospel choir. I’m always humming.