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Learning and sharing to improve dementia care – by Emily Walters (Wessex CLAHRC Dementia Care Doctoral Fellow)

17 November 2017

It was an early start from most of us, away from the familiar realm of university or hospital. But we were coming together from north, east, west and south with a purpose – to understand and share ideas to improve care for people with dementia and their families.

To explain, dementia is not a disease itself but rather a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain caused by different diseases, such as Alzheimer's. These symptoms vary according to the part of the brain that is damaged.

As people that work on research into dementia, we met in London this month to catch up and share the latest ideas.


It was the third such event and as before was packed with opportunities for learning, sharing and networking. In our case, as future researchers, we were bringing together aspiring PhD researchers and those that had been there before us and got their PhD.


It truly reflected the essence of our research organisations (called CLAHRCs) – challenging practice, transforming healthcare, improving quality and involving patients and their carers.


CLAHRCs (which stand for Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care) are always a bit of a mouthful to explain to most people – but in short we take the best research, test it and then work to put it into practice, normally in the NHS. We are funded by the research arm of the NHS called the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research).


With the money to run our CLAHRC ending next year many of us are thinking about our next steps and how to use the skills and knowledge we have developed during our fellowships.  


To help us with our next step, Dr Tamara Backhouse and Dr Nathan Davies shared with us their own successful journeys from doctoral to research fellow, with opportunity to ask questions and seek advice. 


One of the toughest things to do when you spend your day embedded in thought with your own but if research is to pop your head up and try to explain it simply to others. It’s hard, but essential, after all we are using public money.


So for me as one of the doctoral fellows, the next task was a challenge. We had to distil our work so far (often over 3 years) into just one 3-minute presentation with one slide. This 3-minute thesis approach was a real challenge but with feedback from both our colleagues and professors provided a great development opportunity. We also brought along posters, these are a common way for academics and doctors to display their work. It also helps provide a focus for discussion and sharing of experiences.


Our colleague Jason Corner ended the day with a crazy half hour apprentice-style team building activity, which involved finding and photographing 20 listed items both inside and outside the hotel. Our favourite was to find a dancing man – don’t ask. By the evening we had time to catch up with friends and colleagues, strengthening our network within the dementia care and academic community. 


Dr Ruth Bartlett, who is internationally recognised for her work on citizenship, led the first session of the second day. Her thought provoking session about involving people with dementia and family carers in research stimulated much discussion. It helped us to reflect on this important aspect of dementia research.  


Part of what the CLAHRCs do is to try to create future leaders in research and NHS practice. So the event focussed on leadership. Dr Simon Bailey, Research Fellow from the Manchester Business School, challenged our ideas of what leadership looks like, with discussion around our own leadership experience and opportunities. 

Finally, Professor Eneida Mioshi wrapped up the event. 

I for one left the two day event buoyed up from spending time with a group who shared our passion for research and improving the lives of those with dementia. 


Before I finish I must give my thanks to those worked behind the scenes and we would especially like to thank Carole Ponniah who organised the logistics of the event – no easy task. Many thanks also go to Professor Eneida Mioshi who co-ordinated the event and for the support from Professor Jackie Bridges, Professor Claire Goodman and Professor Jo Thompson-Coon. 


Like many people in whatever field of work you are in there is a need in all of us to remember we are working together to meet the same need. To improve the lives of people and their families experiencing dementia. Meeting with colleagues, talking and sharing your ideas, learning new approaches is a way of reminding us of that.


For more information about what each of the CLAHRCs is doing to understand dementia and improve care – please take time to look at our websites


Or if you’d like to know more about dementia – take a look at NHS Choices or look at Dementia UK for advice


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