Dr Michelle Kelly

Dr Michelle Kelly

Senior Lecturer

School of Psychology

Reading minds and emotions

Understanding how social cues help us navigate society and our relationships is what drives Dr Michelle Kelly’s research into dementia and older people.

Neuropsychology explores how changes to the brain can influence our behaviours, which is where Michelle’s research is focussed. Michelle is currently researching how the brain changes that occur with dementia or traumatic brain injury (TBI) impact on a person’s behaviour. “After a change to the brain, basic tasks can become difficult – for example, some people can no longer draw simple items such as a clock. They’ll put the hands in the wrong places, or the numbers on the outside of the face,” Michelle explains.

However, there are also a number of personality changes that can occur with any kind of brain change, and this makes it very difficult not only for the person themselves, but for their families to manage. “Suddenly people are caring for someone who is not the person that they once knew,” Michelle says.

Quick switch to a life-long fascination

An interest in a career as an organisational psychologist rapidly morphed as Michelle realised that this field was more focussed on the success of the business, rather than the people. After studying her undergraduate degree Michelle then training as a Clinical Psychologist while undertaking a PhD in neuropsychology . Michelle had an interest in both the research and the clinical side: “I wanted to do both, which is not an easy thing. The degree is doable, but once you try to find a job that will allow you to do both, that’s quite hard.”

However, she persisted. After attaining her PhD Michelle worked closely with carers of people with dementia and continues to collaborate with researchers from the National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne, UNSW and University College of London. Michelle also works closely with clinicians in public health settings, aged care service providers and not for profit organisations. This practical work inspires her research, and, vice-versa.

With researchers, there’s usually one pivotal event that sets off a career in research. Michelle’s interest in ageing and brain health was piqued while she was studying her Master of Clinical Psychology at UNSW. A guest lecturer (Deborah Koder) came to give a talk about the challenges of working with older people, declines in mental health and additional medical needs – and Michelle’s attention was immediately captured. And this fascination has continued to grow.

It was Michelle’s PhD supervisor, Professor Skye McDonald from UNSW, who inspired Michelle into exploring social skills after brain injury. “Skye is a neuropsychologist by training, but she’s a guru in looking at social skill changes in people who’ve acquired a traumatic brain injury, such as the inability to be able to recognise a facial expression or the inability to pick up on someone’s tone of voice when they’re being sarcastic or are angry.”

Michelle is now researching whether social skills can be relearned and is co-supervising a PhD student with Professor McDonald, and that student is looking at an intervention in social skills in traumatic brain injury. “We’re looking to address the fact that until now, we’re not actually doing anything in this area, aside from trying to encourage people who don’t have the social skills anymore back into social situations. As you can imagine, that’s quite anxiety-provoking and not very rewarding or successful.”

With continued mentoring from Professor McDonald, Dr Kelly is also now exploring these changes in social skills in people with dementia and impact this has on family members: “With dementia, people can lose the ability to be empathic, so you can imagine the impact on a friendship or a relationship. It can seem that they no longer care about how the other person is feeling. It’s a big, sudden change and it can be devastating for the person and the family and social relationships can fall away leaving the person at risk of social isolation.”

The loss of these social skills in people with dementia is an underexplored area. “There is increasing evidence about TBI and social skills, and also in schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder, but with dementia, there’s very little research, and thus, very little evidence for how we should assess and treat these problems.”

Michelle and her team are working on developing an assessment tool using pictures of faces displaying a wide array of emotions to assess how well people with a diagnosis of dementia can read social cues on faces. “We rely on cues such as if someone smiles at us, it makes us feel good, and we know that they’re happy.”

Hopefully it’s tests such as these that will help clinicians determine a person’s level of social skills and this can then be relayed to the carer so they can maintain the relationship for longer. “If we can give the carer information about what’s going on with the person living with dementia, the carer can understand that it’s not a change in personality or that they’ve suddenly become an awful person, it’s merely a symptom of the illness. This could then hopefully help carers cope with the many and varied pressures of looking after someone living with dementia,” Michelle explains.

Caring for the carers

There are a lot of expectations on people caring for someone, it’s very physically and emotionally demanding. Michelle and her team are looking to provide a program to help carers deal with the emotional challenges of caring, which are on top of all the physical challenges. “There are many behaviours associated with dementia such as aggression or socially inappropriate remarks and behaviours that have an emotional toll on carers,” Michelle explains.

With an ageing population in Australia, the challenge will be to ensure that people living with dementia can have their needs met. It’s being increasingly recognised that if people are allowed to ‘age-in-place’, in their own homes, in a familiar environment, they have better quality of life. This is the next challenge we face: how do we best care for people with the nuanced changes that occur with dementia? Michelle’s research aims to provide one piece to help solve the puzzle.

Questioning stereotypes

Michelle is also collaborating with Dr Stefania Paolini on stereotyping and prejudice around older people. “Once upon a time the older person was the holder of all the knowledge and revered for this. However, now, with all that the internet can offer, young people are less likely to go to older people for their wisdom. As a result, we’re now seeing an undervaluing of older people as a group.”

Stefania and Michelle are exploring the way that we view older people, and how we can change that. Often the vision of an older person is someone who’s weak, frail and infirm – however, most people are actually quite healthy and are still very physically active.

One of the areas they’re exploring is to look at descriptive labels and how stigma can become attached to these labels. “This is something that’s happened right throughout the history of psychology, words really do hold a great deal of weight,” Michelle says.

“This is a new area of research that we’re exploring, to see how we can do little things to change the way that younger people view older people and to see if that will change the way that we value or devalue them currently,” Michelle says.

Michelle Kelly

Reading minds and emotions

Understanding how social cues help us navigate society and our relationships is what drives Dr Michelle Kelly’s research into dementia and older people

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Career Summary

Biography

Dr Michelle Kelly is a Clinical Psychologist and a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology. Her research focus is on social functioning in clinical groups including dementia and traumatic brain injury. She also works closely with carers of people with dementia and brain injury to support them in their roles. Michelle collaborates with researchers at the National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne, University of New South Wales and University College London in this work. She also work closely with clinicians in public health settings, aged care service providers and not for profit organisations.

Michelle completed the Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) at the University of Newcastle followed by a PhD and Master of Psychology (Clinical) at the University of New South Wales. Her honours research focused on cognitive functioning in healthy ageing, while her PhD research investigated impairments in social behaviour in adults who had sustained a brain injury. Michelle previously held the role of Clinical Psychologist with the Specialist Mental Health Service for Older People and a neuropsychology role with the Paediatric Brain Injury Rehabilitation team (Hunter New England Local Health District). Michelle continues to engage in Clinical Psychology work alongside her research including providing supervision for students undertaking clinical training at the university.


Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
  • Master of Psychology (Clinical), University of New South Wales

Keywords

  • Ageing
  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognition
  • Dementia
  • Mental Health
  • Neuropsychology
  • Psychogeriatrics
  • Social cognition
  • Traumatic brain injury

Languages

  • English (Mother)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
170199 Psychology not elsewhere classified 80
170299 Cognitive Sciences not elsewhere classified 10
110999 Neurosciences not elsewhere classified 10

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Senior Lecturer University of Newcastle
School of Psychology
Australia

Professional appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/03/2012 - 6/06/2015 Clinical Psychologist Hunter New England Local Health District

Teaching

Code Course Role Duration
PSYC6507 Cognitive and Neuropsychological Assessment
Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle | Australia
Course Coordinator, Lecturer 22/02/2016 - 6/06/2016
PSYC6513 Clinical Psychology of Special Groups: Intellectual Disability/Older Adults
Faculty of Science and Information Technology,The University of Newcastle
Course Coordinator, Lecturer 25/07/2016 - 31/10/2016
PSYC4200 Pre-Professional Psychology 4
Faculty of Science and Information Technology,The University of Newcastle
Lecturer 5/08/2015 - 2/09/2015
PSYC2061 Social and Developmental Psychology
The University of New South Wales
Tutor 20/02/2009 - 6/11/2009
PSYC1001 Psychology 1A
The University of New South Wales
Tutor 10/07/2008 - 6/11/2008
MGMT2725 Career Planning and Management
The University of New South Wales
Tutor 20/02/2010 - 6/06/2010
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Chapter (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2014 McDonald S, Rushby J, Kelly M, De Sousa A, 'Disorders of emotion and social cognition in TBI', Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury: Current research and future directions, Oxford University Press, USA (2014)
2013 McDonald S, Honan C, Kelly M, Byom L, Rushby J, 'Disorders of social cognition and social behaviour following severe TBI', Social and Communication Disorders Following Traumatic Brain Injury, Second Edition 119-159 (2013)
DOI 10.4324/9780203557198
Citations Scopus - 6

Journal article (10 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2017 Kelly M, McDonald S, Frith MH, 'Assessment and Rehabilitation of Social Cognition Impairment after Brain Injury: Surveying Practices of Clinicians', Brain Impairment, 18 11-35 (2017)

© Copyright 2017 Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment. Objectives: This study examined the current assessment practices of clinicians working with people with s... [more]

© Copyright 2017 Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment. Objectives: This study examined the current assessment practices of clinicians working with people with social cognition impairment following traumatic brain injury. Method: Two hundred and sixty clinicians completed an on-line survey that was disseminated through professional brain injury organisations. Of respondents around 90% were allied health clinicians, with the remainder comprising medical, nursing and academia. Main outcomes: The four areas of social cognition that were routinely assessed across the disciplines were insight, disinhibition, anger and social adjustment. The least routinely assessed areas were theory of mind and alexithymia. The test suggested most likely to identify social cognition impairments was The Awareness of Social Inference Test, although only 8% of clinicians responded to this question. Clinicians preferred informal assessment methods over standardised assessment methods for identifying social cognition rehabilitation goals. Higher levels of education were associated with greater use of standardised assessment modalities. Whilst there was paucity of responses overall, TBI Express was most commonly used for social cognition rehabilitation. Conclusions: Considering the high prevalence of social cognition impairments in this population, formal assessment is extremely limited. The under-utilisation of assessment tools is problematic for the assessment and rehabilitation initiatives offered to people with TBI. These results have implications for the training of clinicians working in brain injury rehabilitation.

DOI 10.1017/BrImp.2016.34
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
2017 Kelly M, McDonald S, Rushby J, 'Ostracism and physiological arousal following traumatic brain injury', Brain Injury, 31 550-559 (2017)

© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Primary objective: This study aimed to examine the psychological and physiological effects of ostracism in adults with traumatic brain i... [more]

© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Primary objective: This study aimed to examine the psychological and physiological effects of ostracism in adults with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Research design: A within-subject, counterbalanced design was used. The two conditions, inclusion and ostracism, were examined across two groups (between subjects). Methods and procedures: A group of 21 adults with TBI and 17 matched controls participated in the Cyberball paradigm. This task is a computerised task that exposes participants to a game of catch and throw. In the inclusion condition they are included fairly in the game, while in the ostracism condition they are excluded from the game following the first few throws. Skin conductance levels (SCLs) were measured throughout the game as a proxy for social stress. Main outcomes: Results showed that people with TBI were cognitively aware of when they are being ostracised, but that their self-reported emotional experience to social exclusion was different to that of the control group. Differences in SCLs between groups and between conditions did not reach significance nor did they correlate with behavioural responses. Conclusions: These findings are discussed in terms of the consequences of dissociation between psychological and physiological responses and the implications for motivating behaviours associated with re-inclusion.

DOI 10.1080/02699052.2016.1271457
2017 Trimmer E, McDonald S, Kelly M, Rushby JA, 'The physiological and psychological effects of ostracism in adults with ASD', Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-10 (2017)
DOI 10.1007/s10803-017-3146-9
2016 Cassel A, McDonald S, Kelly M, Togher L, 'Learning from the minds of others: A review of social cognition treatments and their relevance to traumatic brain injury.', Neuropsychol Rehabil, 1-34 (2016) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/09602011.2016.1257435
2016 Kelly MA, McDonald S, Frith MHJ, 'A Survey of Clinicians Working in Brain Injury Rehabilitation: Are Social Cognition Impairments on the Radar?', Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, (2016)
DOI 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000269
Citations Web of Science - 2
2015 McDonald S, Fisher A, Togher L, Tate R, Rushby J, English T, et al., 'Adolescent Performance on The Awareness of Social Inference Test: TASIT', Brain Impairment, 16 3-18 (2015) [C1]
DOI 10.1017/BrImp.2015.7
2014 Kelly M, McDonald S, Kellett D, 'Development of a novel task for investigating decision making in a social context following traumatic brain injury', JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 36 897-913 (2014)
DOI 10.1080/13803395.2014.955784
Citations Scopus - 5Web of Science - 5
2013 Kelly M, McDonald S, Kellett D, 'The psychological effects of ostracism following traumatic brain injury', BRAIN INJURY, 27 1676-1684 (2013)
DOI 10.3109/02699052.2013.834381
Citations Scopus - 3Web of Science - 2
2012 Kelly M, McDonald S, Rushby J, 'All alone with sweaty palms - Physiological arousal and ostracism', INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY, 83 309-314 (2012)
DOI 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.11.008
Citations Scopus - 19Web of Science - 19
2011 Dimoska-Di Marco A, McDonald S, Kelly M, Tate R, Johnstone S, 'A meta-analysis of response inhibition and Stroop interference control deficits in adults with traumatic brain injury (TBI)', JOURNAL OF CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 33 471-485 (2011)
DOI 10.1080/13803395.2010.533158
Citations Scopus - 43Web of Science - 30
Show 7 more journal articles
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Grants and Funding

Summary

Number of grants 10
Total funding $249,453

Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.


20173 grants / $88,047

Early Career Researcher HDR Candidate Scholarship$78,864

Funding body: The University of Newcastle

Funding body The University of Newcastle
Project Team

Dr Michelle Kelly

Scheme Support funding
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2020
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

START Caring for Carers$4,983

Strategies for the provision of the equitable delivery of support services to people with dementia and their carers living in regional, rural and remote Australia is long overdue. The proposed project will be the first of its kind to examine the feasibility and acceptability of the ‘START’ manualised carer intervention in Australia, and the first to provide this intervention using videoconferencing technology, thus providing more Australian’s with access to healthcare.

Funding body: Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research

Funding body Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research
Scheme Project Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2017
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

Improving dementia care$4,200

This grant was funded by the Belmont Golf Ladies following a fundraiser for dementia.

The grant is to support research aimed at improving wellbeing of family carers of people with a diagnosis of dementia.

Funding body: Hunter Medical Research Institute

Funding body Hunter Medical Research Institute
Scheme Research Funding
Role Lead
Funding Start 2017
Funding Finish 2018
GNo
Type Of Funding Donation - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFD
UON N

20163 grants / $59,500

Does social competence impact quality of life for people with a diagnosis of dementia?$50,000

Funding body: Alzheimers Australia Dementia Research Foundation Limited

Funding body Alzheimers Australia Dementia Research Foundation Limited
Project Team Doctor Michelle Kelly, Prof Skye McDonald
Scheme Cecilia Margaret Hudson Dementia Research Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2016
GNo G1600369
Type Of Funding Aust Competitive - Non Commonwealth
Category 1NS
UON Y

Caring for Carers: Examination of a manualised coping program (START) in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and carer burden in Australian carers of people with dementia$7,500

Funding body: Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle | Australia

Funding body Faculty of Science and Information Technology, The University of Newcastle | Australia
Project Team

Professor Gill Livingston, Associate Professor Briony Dow

Scheme New Staff Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2016
GNo
Type Of Funding Internal
Category INTE
UON N

‘SIFT’ that social information! Feasibility of a novel social cognition treatment for people with acquired brain injury$2,000

This project aims to progress our understandings of whether we can comprehensively treat social cognitive deficits after brain injury, and whether such a treatment also improves individuals’ broader social competencies.

Funding body: Moving Ahead: Centre of Research Excellence in Brain Recovery

Funding body Moving Ahead: Centre of Research Excellence in Brain Recovery
Project Team

Anneli Cassel, Skye McDonald, Michelle Kelly

Scheme Seed Grant
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2016
Funding Finish 2017
GNo
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG
UON N

20152 grants / $38,570

Are problems with social skills related to poor quality of life for people with a diagnosis of dementia?$20,000

Funding body: Hunter Medical Research Institute

Funding body Hunter Medical Research Institute
Project Team Doctor Michelle Kelly, Prof Skye McDonald, Ms Tracy Brown, Ms Katryna Harman
Scheme Project Grant
Role Lead
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2015
GNo G1501431
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG
UON Y

Implementation of Psychosocial Guidelines in Radiation Oncology Treatment Centre: A Proof of Concept Study$18,570

Funding body: Hunter Cancer Research Alliance

Funding body Hunter Cancer Research Alliance
Project Team

Dr Lisa Mackenzie

Scheme Pilot
Role Investigator
Funding Start 2015
Funding Finish 2016
GNo
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG
UON N

20141 grants / $50,000

Development of a Social Cognition Assessment Battery for Older Adults$50,000

Funding body: Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Research Foundation (AADRF)

Funding body Alzheimer's Australia Dementia Research Foundation (AADRF)
Scheme Project Grant - Victoria Award
Role Lead
Funding Start 2014
Funding Finish 2015
GNo
Type Of Funding Grant - Aust Non Government
Category 3AFG
UON N

20131 grants / $13,336

Current Assessment Practices of Social Behaviour After Brain Injury$13,336

Funding body: Lifetime Care and Support Authority

Funding body Lifetime Care and Support Authority
Scheme Small Grants Program
Role Lead
Funding Start 2013
Funding Finish 2014
GNo
Type Of Funding Other Public Sector - State
Category 2OPS
UON N
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Research Supervision

Number of supervisions

Completed0
Current3

Total current UON EFTSL

PhD0.85

Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title Program Supervisor Type
2018 PhD Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing in Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation PhD (Psychology - Science), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2017 PhD Validating a Multidimensional Measure of Social Cognition PhD (Psychology - Science), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle Co-Supervisor
2016 PhD SIFT that social information: Feasibility of a novel social cognition treatment in acquired brain injury
<span style="font-family:'Times New Roman';font-size:medium;">Despite the noted existence of social cognitive deficits among people with ABI, there is a dearth of evidence-based treatments shown to have efficacy in remediating these deficits in this population. The efforts that do exist currently are limited by solely targeting the specific social cognitive skill of emotion perception. There has been an expressed need in the literature to broaden treatment efforts in this population to more comprehensively target the interrelating processes of social cognition. This is particularly pertinent considering that comprehensive approaches in other populations have been shown to be superior at improving participant’s everyday social functioning compared to targeted interventions. This project aims to develop and test the efficacy of a treatment for social cognition deficits in ABI, with delivery through, 1) group intervention and 2) a telehealth platform.</span>
Psychology, The University of New South Wales Co-Supervisor
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Research Collaborations

The map is a representation of a researchers co-authorship with collaborators across the globe. The map displays the number of publications against a country, where there is at least one co-author based in that country. Data is sourced from the University of Newcastle research publication management system (NURO) and may not fully represent the authors complete body of work.

Country Count of Publications
Australia 10
United States 1
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News

Participants wanted for dementia study

December 2, 2016

What impact does cognitive impairment due to dementia have on the ability to understand non-verbal communication?

Dr Michelle Kelly

Position

Senior Lecturer
School of Psychology
Faculty of Science

Contact Details

Email michelle.kelly@newcastle.edu.au

Office

Room W132
Building Behavioural Sciences Building
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