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Am I late in life in gaining a PhD OR am I an early career researcher . . .

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approaches to dementia care, education and training, research
OPAL Programme

The OPAL programme (Identifying And Addressing Shared Challenges In Conducting Health And Social Care Research For Older People) was supported by The Newton Fund Researcher Links and funded by the British Council and the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). It was held in Botacatu (in the province of Sao Paulo) in Brazil in June 2018.  This was the height of winter in Brazil but with weather better than most British summers!  The workshop was to develop research collaborations between early career researchers (ECR) of the UK and Brazil, run by academics of the University of Nottingham and UNESP in Brazil. The focus of the workshop was identifying and addressing shared challenges in conducting health and social care research for older people, including people with dementia, and to develop international collaborations and knowledge sharing opportunities.

I received details about this opportunity to apply for the workshop through several on-line sources which also came through several times as it was also shared widely in my own personal networks. The call generated a lot of interest and excitement. An ECR was defined as someone who had been awarded their PhD in the last ten years and who wished to progress their work in international collaboration. Whilst, in prospect, this appeared amazing it also presented me with several personal issues that I needed to reconcile if I were to apply.

Firstly, whilst I have indeed completed my PhD in the last ten years, I have long since passed the knocking of the ’60 year’ birthday door! I considered myself an ‘old primigravida’ PhD student because of my expectation to give birth to this award so late in life! But I fitted the inclusion criteria so issue one laid to rest!

Secondly, I believed I was atypical in respect of what constitutes a researcher.  I work for Dementia UK leading on research and publications and though have some honorary affiliations with universities am not essentially employed within an academic department. I thought myself as an outlier (in research terms), so do I still fit the inclusion criteria?

Thirdly (and you may be pleased to know, lastly), can I cut it with these ‘proper researchers’?

I applied and to my amazement, gained a place along with 13 other ECRs from the UK and 18 from Brazil. So armed with a poster that detailed who I was and my many and varied research interests I ventured forth.  We were very quickly aligned with others who had similar research interests to tease out what the focus of our collaborations might be.  A common strand was palliative and end-of-life care for people dying with or from dementia.

Globally, about 47 million people were living with dementia in 2015, and this number is projected to triple by 2050. In the UK, one in three people over the age of 65 will die with dementia and in 2015 dementia became the commonest cause of death in men and women over the age of 80 years.  There is a growing literature of the experiences of palliative and end-of-life care in dementia. However, in Brazil, where there is still much work to be done in identifying and diagnosing dementia, there is still no clear understanding of what a good death is for people with dementia. So the first challenge for this small group of seven ECRs will be to explore this as a baseline project from which to plan further work.  Some early writing partnerships have emerged but there are big plans for the future.

Whilst services, care pathways and knowledge might differ across countries, the passion to care as well as possible for those affected by dementia seems to be no different!

Heres para o future! (Here’s to the future!)

In photograph from left to right are: Edison Iglesias De Oliveira Vidal, Luciano Magalhaēs Vitorino, Fatima Lucchesē, Francelise Pivetta Roque, Rasa Mikelyte, Karen Harrison Dening.

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