Professor Alison Wray is a linguistics researcher focusing on ways of communicating with those with dementia.
An academic researcher’s work can be lonely hard graft: reading; thinking; investigating; writing. So it’s rewarding when our work has tangible benefits beyond academia and we can say “I’m making a real difference”.
In the UK, someone will develop dementia every 3 minutes. It’s a challenge Cardiff is responding to with truly inspirational work in genetics and neuroscience. It’s increasingly recognised, however, that such diseases need to be addressed from more than one direction. My work in Cardiff’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy demonstrates that there’s tremendous scope to make a positive impact on dementia beyond the bounds of biological sciences.
For the 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, communication can be stressful. Inability to lay down memories can leave them confused and agitated. It can also be enormously frustrating for the people conversing with them. But through my work on dementia communication, I’ve seen how small changes can make an enormous difference.
A few practical steps, like giving a person clues about who you are and what you’re trying to do, and being patient, calming and empathetic, can empower and ease interactions with people with dementia.
Recently I had the pleasure of going to a recording studio with Sir Tony Robinson (Hon 2012), who recorded the audio tracks for two animated films I’ve created on dementia communication.
Clinical research into genetics and drug treatments is crucial, but sometimes the biggest breakthroughs in people’s lived experiences come from a change in our thinking. Universities provide a unique environment for bringing ideas together so that we can meet the major, complex challenges of our time.
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