What drew you to psychology?
I’ve always found human behaviour interesting, I’m an avid people watcher! And as a teenager I loved any TV programme with a psychological element to it, social experiments and things like that. So I think that’s the sort of thing that initially sparked my interest in psychology. I then decided to choose psychology as one of my A level subjects, not really knowing much about it at all but it just sounded like it’d be interesting (laughs). But I found out I was actually quite good at it! I also always really enjoyed maths at school, which is weird I know, but that meant I always enjoyed the stats side of things too. I had no idea at the time what I wanted to do for a career, but I applied to study psychology at Leeds Beckett, and I loved it that much that you couldn’t get rid of me!
What is the research question that drives your current work?
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I found many different areas of psychology interesting, but in terms of conducting my own research I was most interested in Health Psychology, and I like the idea of doing something that might implement change and help people.
My PhD research is focused on exploring the experiences and unmet psychosocial support needs of family carers of people with co-existing dementia and cancer. Not much is known at the moment about co-existing dementia and cancer and the unique challenges it poses, but given that our population is ageing and more people are living with more than one long-term condition, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide holistic care that moves away from this single disease framework that still dominates health and social care systems.
Family carers play a vital supportive role for people living with dementia, and it’s likely to be additionally challenging when they are also helping to navigate healthcare systems, make treatment decisions and provide care that is required when also diagnosed with and receiving care or treatment for cancer. The care provided by family carers is incredibly important, but their own needs and wellbeing are too often forgotten about. So my current research questions are around what is it like to care for a loved one with both of these conditions, what are the psychosocial challenges they face, and how can we best support this group of carers and help to maintain their own health and wellbeing.
What kind of methods/techniques do you use to answer that question?
I’m not firmly in the quant camp or the qual camp. I do enjoy both and appreciate the positives of both! For the first study for my PhD, I conducted a scoping literature review, to explore what is currently known about caring for a person with multiple chronic conditions more generally, and to highlight any gaps in the existing knowledge.
I have then used the findings to inform my second study, which was a qualitative interview study with carers of people with co-existing dementia and cancer using Braun and Clarke’s (2006) reflexive thematic analysis as my analytic method.
Carers of people with coexisting dementia and cancer are a particularly underresearched group, so the aim is to contribute a greater understanding of their experiences […] and it’s also the first study to explore their support needs and preferences, so it will provide key insights for informing policy and practice and the development of targeted support interventions.
What are your future plans/next steps for your research?
Well I’ve recently teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Society, and they agreed to launch a dedicated online support forum within their online community ‘Dementia Talking Point’, specifically for carers of people with both dementia and cancer.
The aim is to provide a peer support network of others who understand the unique challenges they face and a space for them to share their own experiences and seek practical and emotional support from others […] and it’s also a space to provide tailored information on co-existing dementia and cancer. And so we’ve also been hosting expert online Q&A sessions on the forum with the only Macmillan Dementia Nurse in the country.
Those have been really well-received as many of the carers haven’t had any contact with professionals who are experts in both dementia and cancer and having the two together, again because of the single-disease framework dominating our health care systems. And it’s easily accessible 24/7 from home, so it addresses some of the barriers of other support groups which can be really difficult to attend due to caring responsibilities, and particularly when you’re caring for a person with multiple conditions. At the moment I’m exploring how the forum is being used, and its initial perceived value and acceptability in feedback from both users and the Alzheimer’s Society’s online community staff. So it’s ongoing at the moment but I hope to develop it further following feedback and hopefully explore the feasibility and efficacy in the future.
What is your most valued big or small academic accomplishment?
Mine would have to be my research exchange in Norway. Last year I was awarded an INTERDEM Academy Fellowship to visit a research centre called Aldring og helse (Ageing and Health) in Asker, Norway for three months.
The researchers at Aldring og helse have impressive expertise in dementia care and the development and evaluation of psychosocial interventions for people with dementia and their carers, so it was amazing to work alongside them and I was able to gain so much knowledge and insight to shape my own research.
They were incredibly supportive and gave me the opportunity to present my work to their researchers in two different locations in Norway. My presentations were also broadcast live on their intranet page, so that was nerve-wracking! But it was a great experience and I received really helpful and encouraging feedback. It wasn’t just an academic accomplishment but living on my own in another country for three months was a life accomplishment too! I absolutely loved living in Norway, I’d go back tomorrow! I am so grateful for the experience.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m in the final year of my PhD so my spare time is limited at the moment (laughs). But I love going to gigs and festivals – I’m a big Foo Fighters fan, and I’ve had a season ticket to watch Sheffield Wednesday for 18 years! So I still always make sure I’ve got time to watch Wednesday and Foo Fighters!