Fighting Dementia With Data Certificate Grad Uses Visualization Tools to Raise Awareness of Cognitive Decline Risks
  • July 24, 2018
Fighting Dementia With Data Certificate Grad Uses Visualization Tools to Raise Awareness of Cognitive Decline Risks
  • July 24, 2018

Porsche Everson has worked as a consultant for decades, researching and reporting on dozens of different topics in health care, education and other fields. But there is one subject she’s been particularly passionate about: healthy aging.

“I have been doing work on aging and long-term services for most my career,” she said. “It's an important population that deserves our support and respect.”

A key aspect of her work has been investigating the growing incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, devastating conditions that affect millions of people each year. Porsche has seen firsthand the terrible damage these afflictions cause and the fear they can generate.

“The studies that we've done, people would choose just about any other progressive disease over Alzheimer's or dementia,” she said. “It's what scares people the most."

Porsche wanted to do whatever she could to help lessen those fears. She knew there was research that gave people options for combating cognitive decline. The challenge was how to use the data to deliver this message of hope in a way that anyone could understand.

In Her Own Words

Porsche Everson talks about how the Certificate in Data Visualization enabled her to upgrade her skills and gain recognition for her work.

02:30

A New Way to Interact With Information

Throughout her career, Porsche’s job has been to collect relevant data about a topic, study it and present the information in a report or data set. But the approach had a key weakness.

“The reports lacked significant interactivity,” she said. “Most of the work we did provided end users with charts, spreadsheets, poster boards and that sort of thing. We’d publish our results in static reports and that would be it.”

With the emergence in recent years of powerful data visualization tools, such as Power BI and Tableau, Porsche sensed there was the potential to do much more with the information she produced. But she needed help getting up to speed on these new technologies.

“While I was an expert in traditional tools, I had little or no experience in the newer data visualization tools,” she said. “I realized that I needed to go back to school and learn about them.” 

So she enrolled in the Certificate in Data Visualization. What she learned gave her a fresh outlook on her work. 

One of the most powerful things we can do is change fear into hope.

Porsche Everson

“We’re looking at an entirely new way to see relationships in data,” she said. “It’s the most amazing thing in the world to be able to look at the data surrounding an issue and truly understand, in a moment, the core conversations that need to happen around that subject.” 

Visualizing Ways to Combat Dementia

One of the main things that Porsche wants people to know about dementia and cognitive decline is that something can be done about them. 

“That feeling of worry and almost hopelessness about dementia — it doesn't have to be as strong as it is sometimes,” she said. “There are a number of risk factors for dementia and Alzheimer’s that are potentially modifiable.”

To get this message out in a creative, interactive way, Porsche turned to what she’d learned in the data visualization certificate program. First she applied dementia’s nine modifiable risk factors  — including depression, obesity, blood pressure and other conditions — to the findings of a major study on aging and brain health. Then she used Tableau to create a visualization that allows you to manipulate different data points and see how these factors interact with each other.

Porsche Everson's data visualization project allows users to manipulate nine different variables to see how these risk factors influence the chances of developing dementia.

For example, someone who is overweight and has high blood pressure can use the visualization to see how addressing these health problems potentially reduces their risk of developing dementia.

“I designed it for researchers, so that they could examine a large data set of information about brain health in a significant population,” she said. “And what I discovered is that regular folks who are concerned about their health are pretty interested in this visualization too.”

Having an Impact

Porsche’s work received special recognition when Tableau chose her as one of 10 featured authors on their website, highlighting the dementia visualization as a top project. The recognition — and her new data skills — have delivered a valuable career boost.

“The UW data visualization program was the best thing I’ve ever done for professional development,” she said. “It’s been a really great way to enhance this part of my career — I would recommend it highly to anyone.”

But Porsche’s greatest satisfaction is the feeling that her work today can help people who may be afraid of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s at some point down the road.

“One of the most powerful things we can do,” she said, “is change fear into hope.”

Visit the Tableau website to see Porsche’s featured visualization and more of her work


For more success stories from UW Professional & Continuing Education, visit the News & Features section of our website. To learn more about our certificates, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.