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!

The conference was very different to anything I’ve been to before – with less listening and more doing! It was personal, inspiring and fun.

The days were split between listening to others talk and joining in different and creative activities:

  • A range of practical and informative talks:
    • Al Innes showed us the funding landscape,
    • Agnes Houston shared her experiences of living with dementia and involvement in research,
    • Rob Thomas described his experiences of being a carer of a loved one with dementia leading to conduction dementia research,
    • Megan O’Hare navigated us round the NIHR website and where to look for future opportunities.
      Certainly an inspiring group of people – the world is our oyster!
  • On the afternoon of day 1, we spent some time being arty and creative! We made a mandala of all our self-representing objects, and then wrote haiku poems! There was a real connection felt between everyone there.

It was exciting to feel and be part of the buzz and rumbling of motivation, inspiration and passion for the future of dementia care.

  • Day 2 afternoon we had the privilege of Fiona McNeill Associates facilitating an afternoon of Appreciative Inquiry. We weren’t allowed to have paper, pens or any devices out during this exercise – a real challenge as you can imagine!As a result my memory has faded as to what we actually did (we will have a report from them to remind us!). What I do remember was an afternoon of discovering (what we are already doing so well), dreaming (of an ideal future for dementia care and research), designing (action plans for how we would do this) and delivering (hypothetically! Specific action plans for each person).

    Although the actions were just a part of the exercise it was refreshing to dream and come up with something quite feasible for using the connections made at the conference beyond Edinburgh and into each of our dementia research careers.

Most importantly, these exercises revealed a room full of compassionate researchers.

The driver of their amazing work now and in the future? A heart for the people they are aiming to help.

My highlight of the 2 days

3 talks by “successful researchers in dementia care” – none of whom would identify themselves in that category, which was telling!

It was uplifting to hear from these researchers; nearing the end or retired from their careers, not condescending but humble, not losing sight of the reason for their careers – to improve the lives of people with dementia through effective and relevant research.

So, I leave you now with some excellent quotes and advice from Professor Charlotte Clark, Professor Brendon McCormack and Dr Harriet Mowatt – in our eyes successful, but as Dr Mowatt said:

“Success is a negotiable commodity”

  1. Work/life balance does not necessarily mean keeping them separate. What is important to us makes us who we are at work and at home. If we care about our work, which was very evident among everyone at the conference, it is part of who we are. The challenge we received – are we flourishing as people? Both at work and in the rest of our lives.
  2. Be comfortable living in times of a state of mess and not knowing – let yourself say “I don’t know”, it’s liberating! We can only learn what we don’t know.
  3. “Hang onto the coat tails of others” – I love this one! Connect with critical connections and when you find lasting ones, don’t let them go. Ride on the wave of other’s success if needed!
  4. Be clear of (and don’t let go of) your core values. You need to be connected emotionally to what you are doing in order to make a real difference to people’s lives through research.
  5. Be prepared to shift your gaze as you age! Goals and aspirations are great, but be prepared to be flexible, and keep hold of what really matters in life!

You need to be connected emotionally… to make a real difference to people’s lives through research.

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!

Read more

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.

1) CDRF Conference

This was an event for clinical academics within the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Southampton. I presented my first ‘3 minute thesis’ style presentation which was nerve wracking! It seemed to go well as it was followed by some engaging questions and positive feedback. Thankfully I was first up so could relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Naomi Gallant Clinical Academic Presentation - Dementia Care Research

My highlights from the conference:

Other research projects

I’ve said it before: hearing about other projects and the variety of professions doing research makes me excited to be part of something bigger.

A PhD can be a lonely journey, perhaps especially when pursuing a clinical academic route – you can read more about this in my previous blog post “Should Clinical Practice be Secondary to Academic Research?”. Listening to talks about other research topics and seeing people present from various stages of the PhD process makes me feel part of a collaboration of people who are fired up and set to change the scope of our future health care.

Post-doc clinical academic stories

It was really encouraging hearing from Annabel Rule and Lotty Brooks – our trailblazers who are (almost) out the other side of the PhD. Both also happen to be Occupational Therapists! They presented on their roles since completing their PhD: each very different but comforting to know how many options there are following this.

Annabel (in the final stages of her thesis write up) has taken a more clinical route to begin with, managing a team of Occupational Therapists in older person’s medicine in acute care. This job is very relevant to her PhD research project! She described how, despite it being a clinical role, her skills and expertise gained during the PhD are invaluable. My favourite quote: “being a clinical academic is a state of mind – not just a job role”.

“Being a Clinical Academic is a state of mind – not just a job role”

This is a challenge for me to continue to be a “Clinical Academic” in my mindset, whatever happens in 2 years’ time –  always keeping impact on clinical practice at the forefront of my research mind, and always implementing research skills and evidence based practice into my clinical work.

Lotty has had a bit longer since completing the PhD. In that time she started off being employed in a full time research role, before the amazing opportunity arose to have a clinical academic role. She is now using her clinical, research and project management skills towards a job that involves clinical service development, seeing patients, research, and having input into the undergraduate teaching material for Allied Health Professionals. This kind of role feels very far away, but Lotty left us with some encouraging words: “The PhD is a marathon not a race”

“The PhD is a marathon not a race”

To bring it back to the present (after all I have a considerable distance of that marathon yet to complete!), the clinical doctorate also provides opportunities right now that I wouldn’t have had otherwise…

2) Teaching undergraduate Occupational Therapists

Just a couple of days after the conference, I co-facilitated a workshop for undergrad Occupational Therapists about communication with people with dementia (stay tuned for top tips in my next blog post!).

This is honestly one of my favourite things to do – to share my learning, knowledge and enthusiasm with the next group of people to be entering and shaping the NHS, and particularly the world of Occupational Therapy. I’m not far into that process myself but far enough to be able to teach the people in the same place I was 9 years ago(!!!)

The group were really engaging, asking lots of questions which made us realise how much we have learnt in our time as clinical academics researching dementia care! Afterwards we were able to feedback to each other, with some positives and negatives about teaching and facilitating techniques.

What an amazing opportunity, just 2 years into the role. It made me realise how I can inspire the next group of Occupational Therapists – not only in becoming excellent health professionals but also promoting the need for research in practice and even the clinical academic role.

3) Meeting with final year Occupational Therapy student

As if to consolidate my feelings, the same afternoon I was able to meet for coffee with a final year Occupational Therapy student to answer questions about the clinical academic pathway. It was ideal timing for me to honestly reflect on, and share, my journey so far. It is great to be able to encourage others to take on the challenge of embedding research into clinical practice, while continuing to grow and develop as an Occupational Therapist in practice.

I had a lovely email that evening from the student expressing her excited anticipation of applying for the clinical academic doctoral post – the perfect ending to an inspiring and motivating week!

Being a clinical academic isn’t always easy

You will know this from following my blog posts so far!

Still, this week of sharing the ride, influencing and inspiring others, was exactly what I needed to consolidate my enthusiasm about the clinical academic role.

It was just the push I needed to keep going, enjoying the opportunities I have now and keeping my eye on the goal ahead!

“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.

Read more

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!

Read more

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:

Read more

Valuing the whole person – The Enriched Model

Last June I wrote a blog post about changing the world through my PhD. I still believe my research is an important step to making change to wider practice, and to getting a job in which I can influence positive change.

But changing the world doesn’t have to be such large scale! We can change another person’s world just by treating them as a person!

So how can we treat our patients more like people? We start by looking beyond the task we’re performing to the person we are with.


Tom Kitwood understood this idea well, calling it Personhood; “it implies recognition, respect and trust” (Kitwood, 1997).

Personhood can be massively undermined when people are not considered according to their individual needs. By treating the people in our care as patients and tasks, we can easily lose the recognition, respect and trust we all deserve.

The real challenge is how we put this into practice. Kitwood came up with a model to help us think outside the “task” and the “patient” and give more positive experiences to the people we are caring for .

The Enriched Model

1. Neurological Impairment

This includes the decline of cognitive abilities that comes with dementia – memory loss, slower processing, language difficulties, loss of abstract thinking, reduced planning and sequencing, behaviour, and more!

2. Health and Physical Well-being

A person with dementia may also have other illness, temporary or long standing, which will impact their functional ability and how they are experiencing their time in our care. These may include pain, sensory impairments, chest infections, UTIs, wounds or trauma, pressure ulcers, long term conditions (diabetes/blood pressure or heart conditions), and mental state.

It’s so important to know if the person you are caring for has more than a dementia diagnosis – how else will you be able to understand how they may be feeling?

3 & 4. Life History and Personality

A key way in which we make sense of the ‘here and now’ is through reference to past experience. This doesn’t change for somebody with dementia.

It’s so important to learn about their past relationships, occupation, hobbies and experiences for 2 main reasons:

  1. It builds our respect for them, enhancing their personhood, and,
  2. It gives us an idea of how they might perceive a current situation.

Talk to them, talk to their family, use the “This is Me” or “Life History” documents to try and find out about the person under your care.

5. Social Psychology

People and their experiences are moulded by their sense of self, relationships, interactions and the environment. Our relationship and interactions with the people we are caring for have the potential to be extremely positive or extremely damaging.

Considering the whole picture and knowing the person will make all the difference to our relationships and the way we interact with them.

“Personhood implies recognition, respect and trust”

Click to Tweet this

So, how do we treat our patients more like people? In the same ways we do with other people! We get to know them, respect them, recognise them as a person and we trust them. We do all we can to enable the abilities they hold, and we interact in positive ways when assisting them with the abilities they have lost.

A person is more than their dementia diagnosis. Lets keep hold of who they are and ensure their care is the best we can provide!

A person is more than their dementia diagnosis.

Click to Tweet this

Working together – Primary Care and Public Health 2016

Working together in health care is so important, and where are all the OTs? These are my main take away points from the Primary Care and Public Health conference 2016.

Wednesday morning at the NEC, Birmingham; the Exhitbition Hall was buzzing with thousands of people and almost 200 stands displaying health care related organisations, products and brands. The range was incredible: mother and baby, rare illnesses such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, skin care, nutrition, cancer, older people and much more. At the back of the hall were small “theatres” with bitesize presentations about the body, skin and nutrition. What a lot to take in and explore – so what did I discover?

Where are all the OTs?

The range in the Exhibition Hall also reflected the amazing variety of presentations available to attend. Twenty one different programmes ran across the two days and I heard talks from, and spoke with, GPs, Practice Managers, Physios, Speech and Language Therapists, Social Workers, Dietitians, Nurses..! Everyone apart from OTs!

There was a “Therapy” programme which had some interesting talks but the vast majority of speakers were Physiotherapists. So if any of you are OTs who attended, I’d love to hear how you found it! As a profession, we have so much to shout about, let’s hope next year we can have more of a presence!

Working together for quality care

For me the resounding message across the conference was the importance of working together, providing good quality care through multidisciplinary, multi-speciality and multiagency input.

As health professionals we can be defensive about our roles, and rightly so! We all have valuable skills which we have worked hard to accumulate – professional identity is important.

However, in the care of older people especially, we work with complex patients and, not only do we need to work together, but learn from each other to be able to work better!

Three talks highlighted this to me:

Diabetes and Dementia by Jill Hill (Diabetes Nurse Specialist)

I’m no nurse and I’m no diabetes specialist but I do complete my own assessments of vulnerable and unwell people in the community. Jill emphasised the importance of holistic assessments, gathering the whole story.

What functional and cognitive abilities does someone need to manage their medication or insulin? How will it impact somebody psychologically, as well as physically, when they start to lose control of managing their diabetes? What impact will the physical effects of diabetes have on somebody’s dementia pathway?

Learning from each other is so important in a health service where, often, only one health professional will be completing an initial assessment.

Eating and drinking in older people with dementia – two presentations by Lindsey Collins (Speech Therapist) and Lee Hooper (Dietitian)

Now this is an area in which I have some knowledge! I’ve been reading on the subject in depth for over a year now, as you will see from my previous blogs. Despite this, I learnt new things in both talks.

Lindsey expanded on the Enriched Model of dementia care developed by Tom Kitwood in the ’90s and it was really interesting to apply this to eating and drinking. Lee shared a recent study called DRIE about dehydration in older adults, with some shocking statistics – in their study 62% of people admitted to hospital with dehydration were still dehydrated 48 hours later!

As a Dietitian, a Speech Therapist and an OT we all need to bring our individual perspectives to research, assessments and care plans. We also need to work with, and learn from our other health professional colleagues. Only then can we make a difference in quality of nutritional care for people with dementia.
This is such a small part of my experience of Primary Care and Public Health 2016. I would highly recommend this FREE conference and exhibition to clinicians working in all care settings. You couldn’t attend and not bring something new away to apply to practice.

I look forward to seeing you at Primary Care and Public Health 2017!


Tissue viability - Dementia Care Research

Nutrition and skin health – learning from ANTS training day

A great opportunity came up for me when I was invited to present at the Agents for Nutrition and Tissue Viability Study day (ANTS) at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital last Tuesday. If you read my previous blog post Understanding Eating in Dementia – more than just memory loss, you will get a brief overview of what I talked about!

Aside from my own presentation, however, it was the rest of the day that I particularly enjoyed. I loved hearing how nutrition is so relevant to such a range of topics – Acute Kidney Injury, Diabetes, Stroke, Tissue Viability – and developing my knowledge about PEG feeding and Nasogastric tubes!

Care of older people is complex and I would challenge anyone who claims they don’t want to work in older person’s medicine for fear that it would be boring!

My favourite sessions were from the tissue viability nurse; skin integrity is such a complex issue and nutrition plays such an important part!

Tissue viability

For the non health/medic people out there, this is basically skin health. It’s sadly common for older people especially (though not exclusively) to have skin damage through not having healthy skin.

The damage can develop from pressure on a particular area, from friction/shearing on movement or because of prolonged moisture exposure. Often older people, especially those who are unwell in hospital, are at a high risk of skin breaking down and developing sores, which can lead to complex health issues.

“Wounds can heal without dressings” – TV Nurse Specialist

There are various ways of keeping skin healthy – changing position regularly, good personal hygiene, correct moving and handling… and nutrition! Keeping the skin nourished and hydrated is a massive part of wound prevention, but what about healing?

Nutrition and wound healing

The best bit of the talk, for me, was when the tissue viability nurse made the controversial claim (from a nurses perspective anyway!) that wounds can heal without dressings.

I’m not a nurse and don’t know a lot about wounds, so here’s my number one piece of learning of the day! Nutrition is essential in the healing process!

What nutrients does the body need for each stage of wound healing?

  1. Haemostasis (blood clotting)
    – energy
    – protein
    – vitamin K
  2. Inflammation (blood vessels dilate to allow nutrients to reach the wound)
    – vitamins A, C and E
    – selenium
    – antioxidants
    – energy
    – protein
  3. Proliferation (granulating tissue)
    – energy
    – protein
    – copper
    – iron
    – vitamins A, B6 and C
    – zinc
  4. Remodelling/maturation
    – energy
    – protein
    – zinc
    – vitamin C
    – iron

I hope that is useful information for all you health professionals or people looking after loved ones with skin sores. Isn’t the body a fascinating thing!?

And remember – when people with dementia are on hospital wards they especially need our help to stay nourished!