Strength Grows - Dementia Care Research

Strength grows…

“Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on, but you keep going anyway.”

Thanks Google for the inspirational quote!

This is going to be yet another “where have I been” type of blogs.

I realise I’ve been fairly absent from blogging for a few months, but I want to take this opportunity to update you all on what I’ve been doing, and as always, to impart some tips for others in the same boat – I know there are plenty of you!

Like many, I have been battling through the final few months of my PhD journey – how time has flown since I first introduced myself and talked about changing the world! The last few months have been absolutely ‘chock-a-block’ with writing up my final thesis, re-locating and moving house, not to mention starting a new (full-time) job. You can see why blogging has taken a back seat!

Rather than share how tough it’s been getting through this last push of the PhD, I want to give some positive points about how I’ve got through the last few months, and hopefully to encourage others, wherever you are in your PhD journey.

1. Have a change of scenery

A very practical tip for keeping motivated in writing (and keeping sane!) is changing the 4 walls in which you’re working. OK, so relocating to another part of the country in December was perhaps quite a dramatic change of scenery! But a different office to work in (courtesy of my mother-in-law) helped me get through the last week of writing that first draft!

Aside from that though, going to friend’s empty houses, taking a writing retreat to the countryside or the coast, or even spending a morning in Costa, have been crucial to keeping my mind fresh, reducing distractions and making me get up, dressed and out of the house!

2. Discipline and tenacity

If anyone asked me straight-up how I’ve kept going, I have to say there’s a level of sheer determination. I’ve described the experience as wading through tar or treacle: it’s really hard work. But basically the only option is to grit your teeth and push a bit harder! It WILL end, and nobody else can do the work for you!

3. REST

That said… rest and self-care are of utmost importance! We would not expect our car to keep running on empty, and neither can we.

However much work there is to do, there always has to be time – even just one evening or an hour in the day – to stop and recharge. We all have different ways of doing this, but take time away from the computer screen, away from social media, away from work related conversations. Have a coffee, have a walk, go to the gym, have a bath, see a non-work related friend, watch trashy TV (I know for sure there have been times I can’t even focus on words in a book when my brain needs a break!), whatever it takes… but recharge those batteries!

4. Be honest with yourself

We’re all human, and none of us are infallible. A big lesson I’ve had to learn is to face myself – to deal with my naivity.

Moving house and geography, starting a new job, and trying to finish my PhD all at the same time was, in hindsight, not sensible! I did not acknowledge how tired I’d be in that first week of a new job – not just a new job but my first full-time job in 4 years. Then having to face working in the evenings, on my days off, and at the weekends – what was I thinking?!

5. God has carried me through

This one won’t be something you all relate to, but for me it is something I feel I can’t leave unmentioned. Being able to lean on my faith and relationship with God is the only way I have made it through.

At times when I’ve felt I just cannot go on I’ve received encouragement, energy, strength and motivation from God. One of my favourite verses which I had stuck up on my desk for a long time:

“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do no fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41 v 13)

And so moving forwards from here…I still haven’t finished, I’m still pushing through the treacle, but I can honestly say I have no regrets!

No regrets!

I’ve seen people on Twitter complaining of the lack of opportunities after a PhD, even expressing regret for embarking on it. I still have a shred of positivity and belief inside me that this was a good idea and it will be worth it!

I didn’t have to get the PhD for my current role as a Team Lead Occupational Therapist, but I know I wouldn’t be approaching or doing the job in the same way without the experience of the PhD. I don’t think I’d even have applied for such a post at this point in my life if I hadn’t been doing the PhD. There is so much exciting opportunity, and support from higher management, to increase the research capacity in our services and to use my own work to influence Occupational Therapy interventions for people with dementia in our care.

I’m also realising my PhD is more than academia, it’s more than a career step: it’s been a huge part of forming who I am and how I cope with life moving forwards.

The rollercoaster ride is nearly over – but what do people always do once they’ve got off?

They queue up for the next ride!

I scare myself in saying that, I really do…

Headless sculptures in Chicago - Alzheimers Conference

Reflections on AAIC 2018

The picture you see at the head of this blog post is a great piece of art in Chicago – one of many throughout the vibrant city!

I was particularly drawn to the sculpture as it represents so well how it can sometimes feel doing a small piece of research into a topic which really can feel like a mine field. I know there’s so much happening around the world towards improving dementia care, but I don’t get to see it, and with so many bits of information coming from so many sources I sometimes wonder: are we all walking around in random directions, unaware of the others around us, trying to head for the same place?

Well, earlier in the summer, I felt both privileged and relieved to go to such a well-attended, global and informative conference: Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2018.

5600 people from 67 countries with one vision, gathered in one place!

Not only did I attend, but I was able to present my own research findings along side other presentations about improving care for people with dementia.

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Mental Health and Dementia Research

Mental Health and Dementia

I was recently invited to be part of a Q&A panel at an evening discussing mental health at my church – Lansdowne Church, Bournemouth (to watch a video of the full event, click here).

The questions for me primarily focused around the issue of mental health and dementia – a very under-researched, under-diagnosed and misunderstood topic! I did my best, within my knowledge and understanding, to answer the questions that came my way, but it inspired me to look a bit further into the issue and share a blog post about it… I hope you find my musings helpful!

Mental health and dementia – what is happening in the brain?

Firstly lets take a look at what is happening in the brain for people with either dementia or living with mental health problems. For a simple and visual summary of how the brain works see the following image:

I’m not a neuro-psychiatrist (as much as I’d love to be!) and do not claim to have extensive knowledge of the brain and its workings! But two things I’d like to clarify about mental health and dementia before I start:

Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain, dementia is a disorder of the brain: it is inevitable that they will overlap.

Mental illness and dementia are NOT the same thing. 

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Dementia Research Conference Scotland Edinburgh

Forging New Frontiers in Dementia Research – Edinburgh

As the end of the PhD draws ever nearer, I’m finding myself thinking more and more of the next steps… where will this take me? what will I be doing this time next year? Will I continue in research, in clinical work or manage to find a role that combines both?

With all this running through my mind it was great to have the opportunity to fly off to Edinburgh and spend a couple of days with other people completing their PhDs in dementia care, scoping out the future of dementia care research whilst building some great networks.

Here are my reflections and, of course, as always, my take-away points which I hope will also be helpful for all those dementia researchers out there, in case anyone is losing the will a bit!

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PHD Update Celebration - Dementia Care Research

Where have I been? A PhD update & some top tips for getting through one!

It has been FAR too long since I sat wrote a blog post, so firstly I apologize for my absence!

So what have I been doing these last few months?

The last time I left you, I was feeling motivated and passionate about my clinical academic role and my future. I can’t stress how important those moments of enthusiasm, positivity and motivation are in this PhD journey:

It’s been a tough few months!

You’ll remember my analogy of the PhD being a roller coaster ride. Well, I feel like the last few months have been one long, slow, HARD trudge up a slope. In fact I think the cart might have stopped half way up!

Being positive and persistent is very important, but I think it’s more important to write really honestly here. I don’t want to cover up how difficult this journey can be with positive and motivational snippets.

The last few months has not been without major stress, panic and anxiety attacks, feelings of losing control, and tears. Of course the ‘cart’ never actually stopped – but it has been hard!

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Why I love being a clinical academic: A week of reminders

A couple of weeks ago I had a very positive week – a series of events that inspired me and reignited my motivation to be a ‘clinical academic’ (or rather, my full title: Clinical Doctoral Research Fellow (CDRF))!

The opportunities this role is already providing, and will provide in the future, are unique and certainly would not have been available had I continued in my full time clinical role as an Occupational Therapist.

My encouraging week was made up of three separate events: the CDRF Conference, teaching undergraduate Occupational Therapy students, and meeting a final year OT undergrad to discuss clinical doctoral research fellowships.

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“I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean today doesn’t matter”

The week before Christmas I had the privilege of being interviewed on Premier Radio about dementia and encouraging those who are looking after loved ones with dementia over the Christmas period.

You can read the full transcript below, and also listen online here (the interview starts after 9m40s).

There is much more that could have been said so here I summarize, and expand, in 3 key points. I hope you may find them helpful and encouraging as we enter into the New Year.

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Phd Rollercoaster Ride

The Phd Rollercoaster Ride

As I browse through my past blog posts, one sentence strikes me as particularly amusing (from the post ‘1 year doing a PhD – things are starting to happen!‘ )

“I’m close to submitting the 3rd…milestone…– it’s time for the pace to pick up!”

Well here I am 8 months later and it certainly doesn’t feel like any pace has picked up!

The Phd roller coaster ride

I like to think that the point at which I wrote that post I was teetering on the highest point of the roller coaster tracks, having trudged up the hill, slowly and laboriously, almost to the point of completing my research proposal. The view was amazing – data collection, research findings, publications and presentations were all on the horizon.

Then I submitted!

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sweden beauty lake river trees - Dementia Care Research

Dementia Summer School in Sweden #demsum

Sweden. A beautiful land of trees, lakes, more trees and more lakes.

The country is also home to at least two internationally-renowned ‘centres of excellence in dementia research’, in Linköping University and the Karolinska Institute, and it is the land which I was honored to visit last week!

The Alzheimer’s Society and NIHR provided funding for an amazing opportunity for Dementia PhD Researchers around the UK and Sweden to get together to learn, network and be inspired. I am privileged to have been a part of it!

So, apart from taking away a selection of Swedish vocabulary, exploring the beautiful city of Norrköping, and enjoying a stunning train journey from Stockholm to Norrköping at sunset, here are my reflections on a fantastic few days:

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