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.
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
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.
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.
Long ago… back in the year 2015… I completed the University of Tasmania’s ‘Understanding Dementia Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)’ – something I would highly recommend to anyone from any walk of life who has an interest in dementia or dementia care.
Particularly impressed by Dr Jane Tolman’s presentation on the different domains of dementia, I felt it was something everyone should be familiar with!
Last Tuesday morning I excitedly boarded the train to begin my journey to the 10th UK Dementia Congress in Telford. I was looking forward to diving into the Dementia world, meeting new people as well as those I have connected with on Twitter. The programme looked fantastic and it was the first residential conference I have attended – expectations were high!
On Thursday evening I boarded the train home – flagging and exhausted, with a lot to process! My feelings during the week were so mixed. At times I felt the buzz of enthusiasm, of future prospects; at other times I felt the despair and struggles still going on all around us in dementia care – not to mention to the health and social care systems as a whole!
The Clinical Academic pathway I am undertaking involves splitting my time, 60% academic and 40% clinical – this is often a tough ask. Priorities must be balanced and schedules carefully managed. With this split, the question often raised is this: during my PhD, is my clinical work secondary to my academic?
I would argue no!
On overhearing a 3rd year PhD student saying that “when you start your PhD you think you will change the world but you very quickly learn otherwise, realising your work will be of little significance”, I was horrified and disappointed – what is the point of what I’m about to embark on? Why spend 4 years of my life working towards something which will not have any impact?