UK Dementia Congress 2022

After a pause due to the pandemic the UK Dementia Congress was back to being held in person, and this year it took place at Aston University Conference Centre on 8th-9th November. Although it was a smaller affair that previously, it provided a great opportunity to get back to networking, and made it possible for many of the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) team – past and present – to meet up en masse. (I’m not sure what the collective noun for a group of ADS colleagues would be, but perhaps it’s best not to go there!)

We had a good presence at the conference including:

Montage of photos showing Shirley and Nathan presenting next to slides projected onto a screen.
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Research update

We regularly have to provide updates to the wider university to say what’s going on with our research within the Association for Dementia Studies, and it’s actually quite a nice exercise to do as it helps us realise just how much we’re doing on a daily basis. It’s a chance to pause and reflect, and as that feels quite appropriate at the moment we thought we’d share our latest research update with you. So, just what have we been up to between May and August?

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Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme

A small but select group gathered for the latest webinar in the Meeting Centres series which focused on development and progress of the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme and how it relates to one of our current PhD studentships.

Following a brief introduction by Dr Shirley Evans, Dr Becky Oatley began by giving an overview of the background for the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme. Back in 2020, Worcestershire County Council provided £540,000 from their Business Rates for Public Health Benefit with the aim of pump priming Meeting Centres across the county with up to £60,000 of funding in total for their first three years. The programme was just at the point of inviting community organisations to apply for the first round of funding when Covid hit and delayed everything by around six months. Despite this initial setback, multiple applications were received and assessed, and there are now ten funded Meeting Centres across Worcestershire in addition to the original demonstrator site in Droitwich Spa.

Slide showing the various Meeting Centre locations on a map of Worcestershire including Kidderminster, Evesham, Malvern Link and Redditch

Using the Evesham & District Meeting Centre as an example, Becky gave a brief overview of what happens at a Meeting Centre. Essentially, the activities that take place at a Meeting Centre support people to adjust to the changes that a diagnosis of dementia brings. While this includes carers, and additional support is provided for them where needed, it is currently optional for carers to stay and join in as for some the opportunity to have a break and respite may be the most important factor at that time.

Image showing quotes from members and carers such as 'When I come to the Centre I feel like I belong. You all listen to me and we share a lot of laughter and that makes me happy' Also 'The Meeting Centre helps us to realise that we are not walking the dementia pathway alone. We enjoy the friendship we find there and the varied activities'

There have been several challenges for the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme, not least the impact of Covid. As well as delaying the call for funding applications, Covid has affected the diagnosis process for potential members. As Meeting Centres are aimed at people who have mild to moderate dementia, this delay means that by the time some people are diagnosed they may be at a point when Meeting Centres are no longer appropriate for them. Additionally, anxiety or a reluctance to be back out and about going to group activities may dissuade some people from attending Meeting Centres. Rising energy and cost of living have also had an impact on Meeting Centres as the energy bills for their venues and the prices of various resources used in activities have increased and need to be covered. The final challenge has been around reaching new members. Although there have been lots of different activities going on with support from ADS to explore different routes to the Meeting Centre, both directly with the public and also with potential referrers, this has still been a challenge. Many Meeting Centres have been holding open days and taster sessions to give people a chance to see what the Meeting Centre and venue is like before deciding whether to attend.

Slide showing where members come from. For example, referrals from professionals, via a Task and Finish Group, self-referrals, via open days, and after free taster days

So what next? The first Meeting Centres funded as part of the programme are just going into their second year of operation and have had their next round of funding confirmed. Part of Becky’s role is to develop a county-wide community of practice to bring the Worcestershire Meeting Centres together. It is hoped that this will provide a platform for them to share their practice and experiences, and invite other organisations to get involved to spread the word and knowledge of Meeting Centres.

For the second part of the webinar Becky handed over to PhD student Nathan Stephens, who is evaluating the social and economic value of the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme, and shared some of his early findings with the group.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) has previously been used by organisations such as the Life Changes Trust to evaluate the impact of Dementia Friendly Communities in Scotland. Impact is often measured in financial terms, but this is not necessarily the best way, so SROI takes a more pragmatic approach to measure and account for social value and look at what actually matters to the people involved. It accepts the complexity of interventions such as Meeting Centres and does not begin with predefined outcomes, but tries to capture the wider range of experiences and look at cause and effect. Ultimately though it is an economic measure so Nathan will end up with a monetary figure. However, it’s important not to view it as a single measure of success but to see the ‘£’ as a common unit making it possible to compare outcomes and see where most value is being created and where improvements could be made. (Please watch the recording of the webinar for a much better explanation from Nathan!)

Although there are now ten Meeting Centres funded as part of the programme, there were only five when Nathan’s PhD began. His work is focusing on three of these as a cohort for his evaluation. The first part of the work involved consulting with various stakeholders about their own experiences around Meeting Centres and what changes they have seen. This information has then been analysed and mapped to identify patterns and outcomes, as well as the activities that need to take place for those outcomes to occur.

Image showing two slides of the various stakeholders at system, organisation and individual levels, and the start of the mapping process with coloured blocks linked by arrows to show how different bits relate to each other.

So far 23 well defined outcomes have been identified across five stakeholder groups, and the next step is to evidence the outcomes to make sure that they are actually happening, and begin to associate financial costs to them to get the final SROI value.

Nathan took the group through a few of the themes that are emerging from his work so far. Firstly, building back strong, sustainable, and fair communities. Some of the points raised by Nathan around this theme to get us thinking included:

  • Was access to the funding fair? It can be easier for larger organisations to apply due to their existing infrastructures and ability to respond to the funding call at fairly short notice.
  • Is their equity of access to Meeting Centres by families? There is a need to reach different communities who would benefit from the support provided through attending and having contact with Meeting Centres, not just during the sessions but wider signposting to other services. The cost of attending may make it inaccessible to some people, especially in more deprived areas. If a Meeting Centre runs at the same time as other existing services it may be less likely that some people will attend, especially if there are transport or cost issues involved.
  • The programme has helped to develop the workforce by providing opportunities for training and improving knowledge and skills, not just for staff but also volunteers and some carers.
  • The programme has raised the profile of dementia in the county, and also highlighted the lack of post-diagnostic support available in many areas.

Secondly, there was a theme around connectivity and culture change. The programme, and Becky’s role within that, is helping to bring different organisations and services together. Having a shared purpose and common concept like Meeting Centres is key to mobilising this joint working. However, there are still challenges to overcome to ensure efficient and longer-term engagement.

The third theme discussed by Nathan was economies of scale. If an organisation runs more than one Meeting Centre they can share human, physical and technical resources across them to reduce costs, and also benefit from having centralised or shared systems and processes in place. While this can potentially be helpful in terms of sustainability, there is a concern that is may result in a standardised, simplified approach to Meeting Centres. This in turn could risk diluting the underlying Meeting Centre ethos by repeating the same model in multiple areas rather than really focusing on providing optimum support and knowing what is important for individual communities.

Nathan concluded his session by leaving us with a couple of points to think about:

  • Have we reached a tipping point now that Meeting Centres are taking of and spreading rapidly across the UK?
  • Are we at risk of the commercialisation of Meeting Centres?
Slide showing the two points to think about, with definitions of what tipping point and commercialisation mean

Discussions after the presentations indicated that everyone could see the value of the work being done by Nathan and how the principles can be applicable to Meeting Centres in other areas.

Thanks to Becky for setting the scene about the Worcestershire Meeting Centres Programme and to Nathan for getting us to think about some of the deeper aspects of Meeting Centres that maybe we don’t necessarily want to face up to but really need to as Meeting Centres take off across the UK. It will definitely be interesting to see how things develop over time.

A recording of the webinar is available here.

Our webinars will be taking a short break over the Summer, with the next one due to take place on 30th September looking at ‘We’re all in this together!’. You can find out more information and details on how to join the webinar on our website.

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

Follow Meeting Centres on twitter @MeetingCentres

Meet our new PhD student

This week’s blog is an opportunity for our new PhD student Nathan Stephens to introduce himself. He will be looking at the impact of a strategic regional approach to scaling up Meeting Centres for people affected by dementia. Over to you Nathan:

A few weeks into my PhD and some things are beginning to make sense, others not. But a marked difference from week one (now a little blurry), which in truth was a blend of utter jubilation and deflation – “I am ‘virtually’ here…”. This provoked thought: What about those without access to the internet? What about the roughly 60% of people attending Meetings Centres that this represents? I’ll return to this later.

Anyway, it was about time I ‘formally’ introduced myself and hopefully provide some insight to “who I am”, and “what I’m about”. A lover of phenomenology, I feel it is important for the researcher’s presence to be acknowledged. After all, I am trying to make sense of someone making sense of the world, and if you can make sense of me, perhaps you will make sense of the research. If that makes sense? But firstly I would like to say a sincere thank you to everyone at the Association for Dementia Studies (ADS) and wider for the very warm welcome. Regardless of why you’re joining a team, it is a daunting experience. I think/hope a combination of this, and Shirley (Director of studies) and co.’s robust induction programme has coerced me into the team. Having this opportunity to peek behind the academic curtain and witness the plentiful work going on, and all with a key drive to have a tangible impact, gives me a huge sense that the next three years are going to be some of my best!  

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Current* plans for 2021 (*all plans are subject to change!!)

So here we are in 2021 and back in lockdown. Instead of dwelling on things, we’re going to try and be a bit positive and look at some of our plans for the coming months – although as the blog title suggests, who knows whether our plans will end up matching reality! When we tried a similar post back in February last year hardly anything we wrote about actually happened, but hey, let’s see how we go. This isn’t a full list, just a few examples of what’s going to be keeping us busy over the next few months.

First off, we’re hoping that at some point Professor Dawn Brooker might be able to receive her MBE in person. Posh frocks at the ready! (Ok, we know that we won’t be going with her, but any excuse to get dressed up, right?)

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UK Dementia Congress: Coming together in a virtual space

As academic sponsor, UK Dementia Congress is a big deal for the Association for Dementia Studies, but obviously with the current situation getting large numbers of people together in a conference was not going to happen. The conference therefore moved online and was held virtually from 10th to 12th November. Congratulations to the Journal of Dementia Care for organising it all and getting it up and running. This blog provides an overview of the various presentations ADS was part of, but also reflects on some of the differences between a virtual and face-to-face conference.

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PhD poster – what works is what matters

By Izzie Latham

In a recent blog post a colleague reported on a webinar I gave presenting the findings from my PhD research. The study looked at how care workers in care homes learn to care for people living with dementia. I’m pleased to be able to tell you about the next stage of sharing those findings to a wider audience: working with a professional artist to create a poster.

Once I had recovered from the examination process of my PhD (it took a few months!) I started to think about how to make sure that the findings from the study reached the right people; those working with and in care homes for people living with dementia. There’s no point in putting all that work in if my thesis gathers dust on a shelf!

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Sport, physical activity and dementia

On Thursday 16th July nearly 150 people joined members of the Association for Dementia Studies team and the Senior Physical Activity & Adapted Sport (SPAAS) team for a webinar on ‘Sport, physical activity & dementia: Discussions for practice from the University of Worcester’.


The webinar was opened and chaired by Dr Yvonne Thomas from the University’s School of Allied Health and Community, welcoming everyone and setting the scene for the rest of the session.

The experiences of people with dementia engaging in sport and physical activity within their local community leisure and fitness centre

Up first was Dr Chris Russell who presented on his recent PhD. Following an initial literature review of existing evidence and a scoping survey, Chris’ research focused on four people with dementia who participated in activities within three community leisure and fitness centres, giving the opportunity to get an in-depth understanding of their experiences. Using a participatory approach meant that Chris found himself joining in a variety of different sporting activities during his study.

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“What Works is What Matters” learning to care for people living with dementia in care homes

On 8th July our own Dr Isabelle Latham took part in the ‘A conversation with…’ series, organised by Empowered Conversations. Empowered Conversations deliver communication training, one to one support for family carers of people living with dementia and workshops and online training for professionals. During COVID the team have increased online activity to involve carer groups, creative sessions and weekly online seminars’.

Izzie was presenting an overview and the findings from her PhD, which focused on ‘How do care workers in care homes learn to care for people living with dementia?’

Why this topic?

Izzie herself has a background as a care worker in a care home, a trainer and a researcher, and was keen to investigate an area that is actually far more complex than is often given credit. In addition to her own personal passion, there was an academic reason for exploring the evidence around the topic, especially when training is often seen as the obvious answer to improving care. Indeed, research indicates that learning – particularly informal learning – occurs in a variety of ways, not just through training sessions. There is also recognition that there is a complex interaction between day-to-day events, the type of work and relationships, all of which link closely to person-centred care where the focus is on relationships and communication between the care-giver and care-receiver.

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Shaping the Future of the Arts and Dementia: event report

The event facilitators
Professors Dawn Brooker (L) and Tracey Williamson (R) with TAnDem PhD students Becky Dowson, Ruby Swift and Karen Gray at the roundtable event

Just before Christmas 2019, we reported on the roundtable event The Arts and Dementia: Shaping the Future, held at The Hive Community Library in Worcester. The day included a lively programme of presentations and discussion; sharing research from the TAnDem Doctoral Training Centre, and information on relevant courses offered by the University of Worcester, including the Postgraduate Certificate in Dementia Studies. Through discussion with attendees active in the arts, care, research, and education, the event sought understanding of how the TAnDem (The Arts and Dementia) research could impact on practice, education, and training in these sectors.

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