In the time of COVID-19, and now being in lockdown 2.0, remote working and meeting has become the norm. What’s becoming really fun is when you have back-to-back meetings and you barely have time to make a cup of green tea in between!
Doing everything remotely these days within research, it can sometimes be difficult making sure that our work doesn’t just stay within the research bubble, but actually reaches people. Since the pandemic we’ve had to quickly adapt and for example turn seminars into webinars, and engage with our public advisers however is best for them (telephone, skype/zoom, good old post).
So what can we do with our research, and take it out of its bubble (aka the published paper)? We can do all sorts of things to both reach a wider audience and try and create some impact with our research. For example, we can write a blog (such as for this quite nice one here), make videos, use social media, create lay summaries, or give a talk. It really depends on your work and what fits best and who you would like to reach.
Considering the topical nature of COVID-19 and the effects on people with dementia and care home residents in particular , we wanted to make sure that our work so far into this nasty virus and social support services for dementia doesn’t just stay published in a paper. We showed that people with dementia seemed to deteriorate faster in lockdown 1 , but also how much COVID-19 related social support service closures have impacted on the mental health of people with dementia and carers . People didn’t get much support anymore (not that they received much before the pandemic necessarily, but everything counts). People suffered. Unpaid carers took on additional caring duties and became overburdened.
Whilst we shared these early findings in one of our regular Liverpool Dementia & Ageing Research Fora , created lay summaries, used social media and wrote blogs, I also thought it important to try and discuss how we can translate these findings into real-life benefits. Our findings were incredibly negative and downbeat, so trying to do something positive with them felt even more important.
That’s why I organised a remote workshop on how to adapt social support services during the pandemic. Around 30 different providers from clinical and third sector backgrounds attended, as well as family carers. We’ve heard from three different service providers, including the Lewy Body Society  and The Brain Charity  about how the pandemic has affected their ability to provide support. We all went into breakout rooms and discussed experiences and tried to come up with some key elements of how to enable service provision during COVID-19.
Across the groups, we came up with five key elements – Flexibility; Taking an individual approach; Using all possible channels of providing information and support; Being available; and Support with using internet-based services. Service providers and family carers suggested to be as flexible with ways of supporting people as possible, which could involve using phone calls, skype, letters, or videos for example. And given the high level of digital illiteracy in older adults, attendees expressed a need for support in using the internet. This can obviously be a tricky issue, but something that really needs to get a lot more attention within the social care sector and more support from the government.
Our summary leaflet is published online if you fancy having a proper read . Holding such a workshop was a really nice way to have a wider think about that huge question ‘So what?’. Why do we do research? This has helped at least a little bit to take the next step. But there is only so much us researchers can do. What is really needed now is for the government to take much better notice and actively support social care and those at the receiving end better. Hopefully MPs will debate this topic well next week Thursday (12th November) in the House of Commons!
Some tips to help you get your research out of its academic bubble:
- Write a blog
- Use social media to share
- Produce a lay summary
- Be creative and make a video
- Present at a conference
- Give a seminar
- Look out for pop science events, such as Pint of Science
- Talk to your friends and family about it (great way to describe your work in non-academic terms)
- To take that next step, hold a workshop and start translating evidence into practice
Dr Clarissa Giebel  is a Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool and NIHR ARC North West Coast. She has been working in dementia care research for over 7 years focusing her research on on helping people with dementia live at home independently for longer.