Now that a week has passed and the dust has settled, I wanted to share my reflections on the Alzheimer’s Society Annual Conference which took place at the Kia Oval in London on the 21st and 22nd May. Firstly, a HUGE thank you is in order to all involved in organising such a fantastic event that brought a range of voices together in a wonderful venue. This year’s conference celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Society and the 20th anniversary of the Research Network. As a PhD student, the conference was a great opportunity for me to meet other early career researchers, senior academics, talk to people with lived experience and promote my own research.
My stand out moments:
- Particularly pertinent speakers for me were Suzanne Cahill’s presentation on the human rights-based approach and Lenny Shallcross’ moving speech drawing parallels between the gay rights movement and people with dementia’s right to be treated as equal citizens in society.
- I was delighted to have a brief presentation slot to showcase my own PhD research. It led to some interesting discussions and even opened doors to a potential collaboration with researchers in a similar field in Australia!
- On the second day of the conference, Tim Shakespeare and Nicola Hart form the Alzheimer’s Society hosted a researcher breakfast to discuss how partnership add value to research. We heard from PhD students who formed collaborations with musicians, tech companies and care homes and had open conversations around impact, challenges we’ve faced and solutions to overcome them.
- Something which I noticed coming up repeatedly were calls for more impact and implementation of research. The care research that is taking place across the UK is amazing, but more work needs to be done to get this research to the ‘boots on the ground’ aka the people who live with dementia every day! Perhaps this could be the theme of next year’s conference…?
- Finally, there was an emphasis on political pressure this year. Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP delivered a speech and several other speakers called for more social care funding. I attended an interesting session which focused on what the economics of a Dementia Fund would look like (see Designing a Dementia Fund for more info).
Reflections on last year and feedback for next year:
After the 2018 conference, the only critical feedback I gave was that speakers were mostly white males. I must commend the Alzheimer’s Society because it was clear to see that they took this feedback on board and this year, there was increased diversity and gender balance in the speakers and panel discussions. I was delighted to see a session focused on how women are disproportionately affected by dementia.
My PhD studentship is funded by the Alzheimer’s Society but because I’m based in Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland have made a commitment to support me in recruiting participants and I am lucky enough to have great relationships with both organisations. I understand that they are separate organisations with different priorities and objectives, but it did sadden me to see a distinct lack of presence from Alzheimer Scotland at the conference. It would be nice to see evidence of the two organisations sharing resources and working together to improve the lives of people living with dementia.
The PhD journey can be an insular one and attending conferences that bring together researchers, policymakers and people with lived experience are so important to keep sight of the bigger picture of why we’re doing what we do. No matter what area of dementia researcher you are involved it, I would recommend attending this event every year. So now that I’m back at my desk, I’m feeling motivated to crack on with my data collection and will hopefully be back at the Alzheimer’s Society annual conference next year to share some findings!
Katie Gambier-Ross is a PhD researcher
@EdinUniHealth aiming to enhance the experience of people with dementia staying safe when leaving their home. Funded by Alzheimer’s Society