Whiteley wins grant for resident-led dementia research

14 Feb 2019

Project team from left to right: Dr Rachael Frost; Villagers Mary Chapman; Sue Kirby; Pauline Simpson; Peggy Ruff and Dr Alison Armstrong

The Whiteley Foundation for Ageing Well has won an award from the British Society of Gerontology’s (BSG) Averil Osborn Award for Participatory Research, providing a £3,000 grant to fund the Foundation’s latest research project – one that will be led by Whiteley residents themselves.

The Foundation, established in 2017 by the Whiteley Homes Trust which manages Whiteley Village retirement community in Surrey, aims to understand what it means to age well and how best to help people do so, through research and collaboration.

The new project, entitled, ‘You, me and the big D’, will offer dementia awareness training to villagers and assess its impact on their behaviour and attitudes towards other residents living with the condition. It will also analyse whether training increases residents’ willingness and ability to provide support and companionship to others in their community with dementia.

A crucial aspect of the research is that it will be led by four Whiteley residents, supported by Dr Alison Armstrong, Director of the Whiteley Foundation and Dr Rachael Frost, a specialist in older people’s mental health, at University College London. Dr Armstrong said: “This decision is excellent news for the Foundation and Whiteley Village. We applied for BSG’s Averil Osborn Award as it specifically supports projects which focus on encouraging and enabling older people to participate and play a central role in research.

“It is estimated that over 7% of over 65s in the UK are currently living with dementia, and only 35% of those feel included in everyday life. As a retirement community this issue obviously affects us more acutely. There is generally a great deal of misunderstanding and fear about dementia and understandably negative perceptions are significantly higher amongst older people, so although the Village has a strong ethos of community and neighbourliness, dementia is the one area where there can be a reluctance to reach out.”

Dr Susan Venn, a Research Fellow at the University of Surrey, and member of the BSG judging panel said: “The committee felt this was an important, relevant topic that could bring real benefits to residents. Our decision was unanimous and the project was highly recommended for acceptance.”

Whiteley Villager, Pauline Simpson who is a member of the project team said: “So many of us either know someone with dementia or are affected by it personally. But in comparison to cancer, there’s much less research funding available and unfortunately there is definitely a stigma attached to it. If this project can help us understand how people are affected by dementia, how we react to those who suffer from it – and more importantly how we can play a part in helping our friends and neighbours navigate their journey along the way, it can only be a good thing.”

Dr Armstrong added: “I’m delighted we’re able to proceed with this research. Through it I’m hopeful we can tackle misperceptions and encourage more people to support and engage with dementia sufferers and their carers – helping improve their quality of life and inclusion in the community.”
The research is due to start in early Spring and will last for seven months.

More information about the Foundation and Whiteley Village can be found on this website.

Author: Andrea da Gama