How university research is giving dementia sufferers a better quality of life

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More than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, with numbers expected to rise as we live longer.

As the illness progresses, people with dementia and their loved ones face different challenges. At Bournemouth University, a group of researchers are working to find solutions and improve people’s quality of life.

Difficulties with spatial awareness can be an early sign of dementia and often leads to problems in navigating around unfamiliar environments. This means it can be quite distressing to move to an unfamiliar care home as the disease progresses.

Research by BU’s Dr Jan Wiener, Professor in Psychology, is exploring the issue of wayfinding and how it affects people with memory problems and dementia. Dr Wiener’s team are working on a number of projects to help better understand what causes these difficulties. They are finding out how people navigate around different environments, what they use as way markers and what impedes this, by using sophisticated eye-tracking technology and virtual 3D environments.

The eye-tracking technology means the team can see exactly where people are looking in the virtual buildings. Ultimately, the team hopes to use the results to influence building guidelines for care homes and other public places.

Another challenge faced is difficulties with eating and drinking. This can be for physical reasons, such as problems with swallowing or chewing, or cognitive decline, meaning people may not realise they’re hungry or thirsty or may be unable to communicate their needs.

Professor Jane Murphy and Lecturer in Nutrition, Joanne Holmes, are working with care homes, councils and carers to find solutions.

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They have found that people in care homes often weren’t eating or drinking enough to meet their daily needs. By working with staff, the team have drawn out examples of best practice and strategies for supporting people with dementia to eat and drink well. These include offering people visual choices between food and immersing them in food preparation and using smells, tastes and memories to help spark their appetites. These ideas have been developed into a training book and YouTube film, which are being shared widely in the sector.


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