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.
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.
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!
Last week I crossed a major milestone in my PhD and passed my Upgrade from MPhil to PhD (more about this next time!) so I finally have the time and head space to share another blog post with you.
I have promised you all a post about communication in dementia, so here it is. Read more
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.