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.

Over the 4 days I spent at the conference my overwhelming feeling was that of being honoured to be a part of something so huge and inspiring – even if only one tiny part!

Thousands of people around the world are working daily to fight dementia and the impact it can have. Through work in prevention, cure and care, people all over the world are making a difference to individual lives, and the health care systems involved.

If you’re feeling like you missed out, don’t worry! There is a daily podcast from the conference in which the attendees and participants will fill you in on the highlights, with details from each day’s events.

The over-arching theme of the conference which I took away was the importance of prevention: “treatment is now prevention”. I was fascinated by a presentation of a global project, FINGERS – a multi-domain lifestyle intervention, reducing the risk of developing dementia.

Dementia treatment is now prevention.

I was Tweeting away through the conference so scroll back through my Twitter feed or search for #AAIC18 or #AAIC2018 posts to see what I was enjoying at the time!

Here are a few of my highlights

  • Meeting people from near and far: Brazil, USA, Canada, Israel, Ireland and the UK.
    I was excited to meet an Occupational Therapist from Brazil with similar passions and similar challenges – protecting and promoting Occupational Therapy. Her research poster presented a novel idea of using a tailored activity program to improve the mental health of caregivers of people with dementia. Through presenting my own work, I connected with other people presenting in the same session as me from the USA, Canada and Israel. It was also lovely to catch up with Prof Claire Surr (@clairesurr) from Leeds Beckett University and to hear about the great work there. Her poster on the ‘What Works?’ project was particularly useful for my own dementia care training for staff in the hospital; it’s worth looking up!
  • New policies cropping up around the world
    The conference was a great place to learn about what is happening in government and policy-making around the world. One example of this is the ‘Canadian Charter of Rights for People with Dementia’ – a piece of work which should be replicated around the world! I was so pleased, as an Occupational Therapist, to hear how it includes meaningful engagement as an important element in the rights and quality of life for people with dementia.
  • An amazing variety of presentation topics
    I attended sessions about nutrition, sleep, environment, job demands and social isolation, to name a few. I heard how these important areas of our lives can impact the development of dementia and experience of living with it, and what research is being carried out to know better how to help.
    For example, eating leafy greens have been shown to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease – get eating that spinach, cabbage and lettuce!
    It was also really exciting to see the increase in research in young healthy brains to understand from the beginning how dementia is developing.
  • My final highlight
    It was a real pleasure to meet representatives from the University of Tasmania – you’ll see in my previous post how much I enjoyed their Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). I’d highly recommend for anyone wanting to deepen their understanding of dementia. But now I have been introduced to their latest MOOC, Preventing Dementia, which fits very well with the theme of the conference. I’ll certainly be setting aside the time to undertake the learning from this latest course and will be sure to update you when I do!

We need to be talking with people with dementia not just about them.

So what would I change about the conference?

  • Where were the people with dementia and/or their family and carers?
    It was great to hear about the latest research, and to meet scientists and health professionals from around the world, but there was a gaping hole! The true experts in the field were missing…
    As I heard said while during the conference, “we need to be talking WITH people with dementia not just ABOUT them.”
  • The conference was very biomedical heavy
    It was great to expand my knowledge and very good to know we’re all working in a huge variety of ways to make a collective difference. With that said, I did feel it could have been more varied and included more ‘experiences’ and research about care and support. I was pleased to meet one of the directors from the Alzheimer’s Association, who echoed these thoughts and is working to improve it for the future conferences.

So be encouraged.

If you care for a loved one with dementia, have dementia yourself, or know that there is dementia in your family, be encouraged – there is a lot of work going on all over the world to help fight it!

The pace is only picking up, with doors opening for more research, more knowledge and more application to practice.

It was great to be part of a collective, feeling more like we’re walking in the same directions with our heads on, rather than a group of unaware individuals!

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