Published on 06 March 2023
The impact and importance of Alzheimer’s research by academics at the University of Sunderland has been shared with the public at one of the region’s major visitor attractions.
From the future direction of specialist dementia nursing care, to a tool which can potentially diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, Dr Heather Yemm and Dr Joe Butler took part in a ‘Meet the Experts’ event Programme at the Life Sciences Centre in Newcastle.
The programme invites leaders in their field to share their knowledge and passions with visitors.
Scientists from Sunderland, and other regional universities (Northumbria, Newcastle, Durham and Teesside), answered questions and showcased their work into the condition, which will see one in three people born in the UK this year go on to develop dementia in their lifetime.
Visitors took part in ‘Our Wonderful Brains’ interactive activities, discovering more about the workings of the brain and Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia. Volunteers from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the nation’s leading dementia research charity, were also on hand to answer questions.
Dr Yemm, a Research Fellow at the University of Sunderland’s Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute, has been commissioned to run an evaluation of the Admiral Nurse Service, funded by charity Dementia UK, which supports families affected by dementia, providing clinical, emotional, and practical support.
She said: “This event which allowed us to showcase the important research that we’re doing to understand how best to support people living with dementia and their families and wider communities. The discussions on the day were hugely engaging and I hope those who attended got something meaningful from the experience. Many people kindly shared their own stories and experiences of dementia, and it was great to see how positive people were about the research we’re engaged with and about supporting people living with dementia.”
The Admiral Nurse pilot scheme runs for three years. Hosted by South Tyneside Health Collaborative, with support from Dementia UK and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board, Dr Yemm is assessing the strength, impact and effectiveness of the service.
Meanwhile, Dr Joe Butler, a senior lecturer in psychology and NIHR Research Fellow, also based in the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute, is involved in the study of new tools which may assist with the early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease.
He co-leads a research group – Binding in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (B.I.N.D), alongside Dr Tamlyn Watermeyer at Northumbria University, and Dr Mario Parra at Strathclyde University.
Dr Butler says: “Our group is focused around developing assessments tools for the early detection of Alzheimer’s diseases and a general interest in memory binding.
“We have recently developed a short computer task where the person has to memorise coloured shapes and takes about 15 minutes to complete. Previous research has shown that the task can identify individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, so to have developed a version which people can accurately self-administer and without a researcher having to be present opens up new opportunities for research and may help us to identify new risk factors.”
He added: “This was a fantastic day where we got to speak to the public about our work and Alzheimer’s Disease in general. The feedback has been very positive and the visitors really appreciated having experts available to ask questions.”
More than 944,000 people are living with dementia in the UK – and this number is set to increase to 1.1m by 2030.
Samantha Turner, Public Engagement Manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “As the UK’s leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK believes it’s vital to confront misconceptions about dementia across society. By engaging with the public in unique and creative ways, we believe that we can contribute to the changing of attitudes towards dementia. The ‘Our Wonderful Brains’ event enabled us to reach underserved audiences, and to showcase the life-changing research that’s bringing forward new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent the diseases that cause dementia.”
Ben Rutherford-Orrock, Contemporary Science Manager at Life Science Centre, said: “At Life, our mission is to inspire everyone to explore and enjoy science and to discover its relevance to their own lives. Some subjects - like dementia - can be daunting. So it’s important to help families explore issues like this through engaging and fun activities like the ones offered at this event.”
The University’s The Helen McArdle Research Institute drives forward research focused on achieving excellence in nursing and patient care.