Date: 20 September 2018
A Berkshire man is amongst more than 200 people with dementia taking part in a research trial to see if prompting recollections of historical events can improve their memory.
Participants in Reading and Sheffield are being asked to dip into events such as England winning the 1966 FIFA World Cup through touchscreen computers.
George Stewart, 76, of Woodley, Reading took part in the study, where participants can view images and videos of historical events to help promote conversation with friends and family.
Researchers believe that people who keep their minds active may be able to slow the effects of dementia and prolong independent living.
Mr Stewart spoke ahead of World Alzheimer's Day (21/9), an annual drive to raise awareness of dementia.
The great grandfather of three was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy Body Dementia in 2017.
Mr Stewart said: “When I was diagnosed, I thought I was on the way out. I thought it was a real downer. It left me with no hope and I thought it was going to take over my whole life.”
Mr Stewart’s partner Sharon Field was told about dementia research at an information stand in Green Park, Reading in September 2017.
She gave researchers at Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (Berkshire Healthcare) her details, who then contacted her about taking part in the Independent Living Support Functions for the Elderly (IN-LIFE) study.
After agreeing to participate, Mr Stewart was visited by a research assistant from Berkshire Healthcare, who gave him questionnaires on his memory, quality of life and general health and showed him how to use the software on a touchscreen computer, which he was given for two weeks.
The software, called CIRCA, allows users to select topics such as sport or entertainment and access videos, photographs and music.
Examples include Queen’s 1977 single ‘We Are the Champions’ and clips from movies such as 1955’s The Love Match and 1964’s Mr. Scrooge.
Participants are filmed by researchers while using the software to help them understand how people interact with and respond to it.
Mr Stewart said: “The study took me way back – 20, 30, 40 years. I was constantly talking about it, telling people about the world I lived in.
“It brought back childhood memories of what I’d experienced and seen on TV, all that sort of stuff.”
Mr Stewart, who worked in construction, said: “I have something wrong with me, and I think anybody with anything wrong should try to help people in the future.
“I realise you can’t change this condition, but you can let people know what it does to you. Research is the only way we’re going to make any sort of progress.”
Partner of 25 years, Miss Field said: “He kept himself very busy at home after retirement, he used to do all of the housework but with the dementia he’s found it hard because he couldn’t do it anymore and it’s got him very down.
“We try and walk the dog together every day. We’ve learnt to not worry about some of the stuff we can’t do and just look at the things we can do.
“That study opened up lots of ideas of things we can do together and enjoy. By taking part in research, not only are you helping others, but you can find information that might help you. I wouldn’t have thought to do that, but his memory was a lot better afterwards.
“We also spent time together. It’s hard for George to sit and have a conversation about now because he can lose his train of thought, but going through the pictures, it was like prompts and he’d talk about his memories and things I never knew he did.
“I’ve loaded pictures up on to my laptop to do the same of sort of thing: such as the cars and dogs he’s had, and pictures of Australia as he was there when he was younger.”
Lewy Body Dementia is caused by clumps of protein forming inside brain cells, which are often found in people with Parkinson's disease. They build up in areas of the brain responsible for functions such as thinking, visual perception and muscle movement.
Symptoms include memory problems, periods of alertness alternating with periods of confusion, uncontrollable shaking and hallucinations.
Professor Arlene Astell from the University of Reading, who is leading the research, said: “People with dementia have problems making new memories but still have ones from the past.
“Talking about these memories helps to keep their minds active and also reminds them and the people they are talking to about who they were and what they did before they developed dementia.
“The IN-LIFE project has enabled us to bring the CIRCA software to people in their own homes and the results are very positive. We hope this software will soon be available to everyone who is living with dementia.”
The IN-LIFE study, which closed to new participants in January 2018, is sponsored by the University of Sheffield and funded by the European Commission. It is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) (see notes to editors for a description of the NIHR).
To mark World Alzheimer’s Day, Mr Stewart and Miss Field are encouraging others to sign up to Join Dementia Research, a nationwide service through which people with dementia and healthy volunteers are contacted about research studies they could take part in. Visit www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk or call 0300 111 5 111 or 0300 222 1122.
For Berkshire Healthcare studies seeking volunteers call 0118 3785700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.