Thanks to funding from the Ageing and Dementia Research Centre (ADRC) and the BU Psychology Department, I recently had the privilege to attend and present at the 32nd International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) in Kyoto, Japan. The conference is the largest in the dementia field and attracts interest from people all over the world. This includes academics, health and social care practitioners, medical professionals as well as people living with dementia and their care partners. During the conference I spoke about my PhD research that concerns the social inclusion of older men with dementia. I emphasised the importance of understanding men living with this condition as more than just a homogenous, androgynous population, and instead as individuals who maintain (or seek to) their multiple masculinities throughout their experiences of dementia. As such, only through using ecopsychosocial initiatives that cater for these gendered experiences of dementia can we hope to bring about true social inclusion for this hard-to-reach population.
Having presented at the ADI conference in 2013, when I was just starting out on my PhD journey, this opportunity made for a fitting conclusion to what has been an enjoyable(ish) and intellectually rewarding four years of study. I was surprised and heartened to witness that over these past four years, the global understanding of dementia has begun to shift. Unlike in 2013, this most recent conference sought to re-position dementia as a disability and was focussed on the Human Rights and (Social) Citizenship of people living with the condition. It placed more emphasis on the societal changes (rather than the individual) that must be undertaken to enable the social inclusion of people with dementia within communities that are both physically and conceptually ‘dementia-friendly.’ It also highlighted the important role of inclusive research approaches that value the voices of people with dementia as ‘experts by experience’ and position them as ‘active social agents’ rather than passive recipients of care.
With a cure for dementia still a distant realisation, it is essential that these academic messages are successfully translated into ‘on-the-ground’ practice; thereby ensuring the well-being of those living with the condition through the language used to speak about them and the support offered to them. As I continue my employment at BU, post-PhD, these will be my guiding principles as I seek to undertake applied research that promotes these important messages and work alongside people with dementia as co-collaborators to bring about this much needed social change.