Category / Research communication

Research reflections 2022 – Your highlights: The RaNTrans project

Dr Dan Franklin, Associate Professor in Environmental Science, and Annesia Lamb, Post-Doctoral Research Assistant/Senior Research Associate, write about RaNTrans, an Interreg project addressing the issues of excess nutrients in coastal waters… 

The Interreg (Rapid Reduction of Nutrients in Transitional Waters) project is a partnership of several UK and French organisations addressing the issues of excess nutrients (particularly nitrogen) in coastal waters. Human modification of the nitrogen cycle is recognised as one of the “planetary boundaries” beyond which humanity currently operates. Excess nitrogen in coastal ecosystems can cause dramatic ecological changes and significantly alter how ecosystems function.

The surface of Holes Bay covered in a green algae with three people wading in it

Seaweed collection in Holes Bay, Poole Harbour

RaNTrans has had a strong focus on the use of seaweeds and oysters to mitigate excess nitrogen conditions. Seaweeds and oysters take up and store nutrients in their tissues and when harvested can act as a removal mechanism to offset human nutrient discharges from agriculture and wastewater treatment works. They are also the subject of large-scale ecosystem restoration projects through European coastal waters.

Green seaweeds (such as Ulva) are often very abundant in high-nutrient estuaries. They can form “mats” and shade other species of seaweeds, potentially change dissolved oxygen conditions, and can also change the amount of food available to wading birds in the underlying sediments. Improving our understanding of mat species and biochemical composition, mat dynamics and computer modelling, and mat detection with remote sensing are other aspects of the project.

An aerial image showing areas of algae at Holes Bay

Holes Bay algal mat detection

This year RaNTrans successfully completed a large-scale seaweed collection trial in Holes Bay, Poole Harbour, which removed several hundred kilos of seaweed mat. This effort involved up to 10 project personnel working at our Hole’s Bay experimental site.

We are now monitoring the impact of this collection effort on bird ecology, sediment macrofauna (the clams, worms etc that live in the mud) and we are quantifying how fast the seaweed mat returns to the harvested plots. We have found that the growth conditions for green mat-forming species of seaweeds in Holes Bay are especially benign, resulting in an almost single-species mat which is relatively straightforward to harvest.

The project runs until June 2023 and we hope that our findings will lead to a better understanding, and greater innovation, in how we manage an environmental issue that is significant throughout the coastal waters of the world.

Find out more on the RaNTrans project website 

Research reflections 2022 – Your highlights: DONATION project

Dr Rounaq Nayak, Lecturer in Sustainability, writes about the DONATION project, which explored the impact of the cost of living crisis on food aid programmes… 

The research success I have had is with a project that I started at the beginning of the year, titled ‘Design of a social sustainability and food utilisation matrix for food banks (DONATION)’, using the Charity Impact fund (internal call).

The fund helped me explore the impact of the cost of living crisis on various food aid programmes in the UK (including food banks and community markets in Dorset, Leicestershire and Shropshire).

I would term this project a success due to 3 reasons: it gave me the chance to carry out research in a new topic area, it allowed me to network both within the university as well as with key stakeholders outside the University, and apply successfully for seed funding from the British Academy.

Findings from the study were published in a Call for evidence on the UK Parliament website, which is a first for me. Detailed findings will also be published as a peer-reviewed paper in a special issue journal that is widely read by audiences in the sector.

Vegetables in packaging in a food bankWhat started out as a small project that was awarded £2500 at the start of the year has led to a larger project with a defined theme (£7900) that is attracting interest from various stakeholders such as BCP, Bristol City and Oxfordshire Councils, key stakeholders associated with food aid programmes in the UK, and charities that work with vulnerable populations.

The findings have also led to the identification of a new group of clients that need access to food banks due to food and fuel poverty – people working full-time jobs and on an annual salary. Based on these findings and the gravity of the situation identified through this project, I am aiming to apply for a UKRI New Investigator Grant in the autumn of 2023.

Research reflections 2022 – Your highlights: ECHO project showcase event

Dr Jane Henriksen-Bulmer, Principal Academic in Computer Science, writes about a three-day event that took place at BU in early December to mark the end of the ECHO project, which aims to strengthen the proactive cyber defence of the European Union…

This is the largest event we have ever arranged and the culmination of the H2020 pilot programme (consisting of only 4 projects, including ECHO) on Cybersecurity. BU is the one of only 3 universities involved in the project, with most of the partners being from industry (44 partners in all). We are the only project partner from the UK, so we have a lot to be proud of.

Presentations took place as part of the ECHO dissemination event

This event was the showcase for all the outputs from the ECHO project and we had an impressive line-up of prominent guests and speakers, both local and from Europe. On top of that, we involved 4 cohorts of students in the event, from L5 through to L7, so this truly is a fusion exercise where learning, teaching and industry come together to showcase the best of what we can do when we ‘fuse’ the three aspects.

The 3 days were jam-packed with excitement starting on the Monday with a kick-off event where we had talks from a number of prominent speakers from across Europe including ENISA, DG CNECT, Accenture, DSTL and ESET.

This was followed by a series of student-led workshops run by our final year undergraduate and master’s students (Huseyin’s Human Factors unit) where they interviewed the ECHO partners and conducted Human Factors evaluations on the Early Warning System, which went really well.

On Tuesday, we and our ECHO guests spent the morning recording some footage on the Green Screen in the Faculty of Media and Communication, which they are going to turn into an animation that we hope to use for dissemination. This was followed by a visit to BAE Systems’ STEP facility in Christchurch, where my final year business IT students presented their ideas for how the various plug-ins created as part of ECHO can be commercialised, which went down really well.

Students sat at computers

Students take part in an exercise as part of the ECHO event.

Then, on Wednesday we had the Incident Response Scenario where a group of second year students (Cagatay’s Ethical Hacking Unit) played blue team, defending multiple systems under attack. They then used the Early Warning System to raise tickets to warn of the attack as it was happening. It was a real eye-opener for them to see how this might play out in real life and they had a fabulous day, as did the observers and guests.

Overall, the whole 3 days were a resounding success, we have really enjoyed the experience (although we now must sleep!) and are hoping to host similar events in the future, watch this space!

Research reflections 2022: Your highlights

As we come to the end of 2022, we’re taking a look back at some of our research and knowledge exchange successes from across the year.

In today’s blog post, members of the BU community share some of their highlights…

In 2022, we celebrated the REF 2021 results (and associated increase in QR funding) and our increase in performance in KEF2. We also supported BU to successfully retain the HR Excellence in Research Award for the 8th year.

We had a successful internal research audit and we received positive feedback from the Senate review on URPPC management, administration and advice.

We supported the launch of the Strategic Narratives, including organising the Online Public Lecture Series, and we ran our first research conference in several years, which was a great success. We also re-started our in-person Café Scientifique series and delivered several events as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

We established the Research Excellence Team and welcomed the Business and Knowledge Exchange Managers to BU, as well as launching the RCaTS scheme.

We made further improvements to the RKE processes by working with the BU Transformation Team, such as the implementation of the enquiry management system, the eItB, and the launch of a new process for Research Centre memberships.

We’ve increased our number of bids compared to the previous year, which has led to some exciting new awards, such as Dr Philip Riris’ AHRC grant and a Knowledge Transfer Partnership led by Professor Marcin Budka.

RDS moved into Studland House and Joelle Fallows, RDS Operations Officer, has been instrumental in linking a new charity (Story Works, set up by Dee Hughes in FMC) with a local primary school, launched with a visit from Michael Rosen (the charity patron) to BU – pretty cool!

Julie Northam, Head of RDS

The work being undertaken by myself and Henry Bang from the BUDMC has had major impacts through projects such as AFRICAB, EVALDIS and ELIED, working with governmental organisations in preparing for, responding to, and recovery from crisis.

Elsewhere in the Faculty, Professor Mike Silk has concluded his big grants around the Paralympics, with major coverage in the year of the Paralympic Games; Professor Dimitrios Buhalis’s achievement of being the most cited academic in terms of individual papers in the field of Tourism and Hospitality; Professor Janet Dickinson and her exciting e-drones project; and Professor Chris Chapleo has been supporting local business Actisense, enhancing and automating their customer service through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

Professor Lee Miles, Deputy Dean for Research and Professional Practice, BU Business School

As part of the BOU (British Ornithological Union) panel that records fossil and archaeological birds from the last 2.6 Million years for the official British list (category F) we published a paper in Ibis detailing our database. This can be used to inform policy decisions on native status of British birds. The paper includes a discussion of some of the more interesting and controversial records like the mandarin duck, pigmy cormorant etc.

Professor John Stewart, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeoecology, Faculty of Science and Technology

The launch of the Research Excellence Manager role, full stop; having a role which has specific responsibilities for BU’s research environment and research culture is pretty brilliant. Equally, the launch of the Research ‘Most Excellent’ team – having a team with this lens brings a lovely perspective to the work we do.

Our REF results and QR funding increase was a massive achievement and testament to the hard work everyone has been putting in for years. We’ve been rejuvenating connections among the UOA teams, with a large number of expressions of interest from staff wanting to get involved (50 plus), ranging from ECRs to Professors. We’ve also been working with academic colleagues to achieve 100% compliance on our Research Outcomes submission.

We have lively, active and full research leadership programmes, ECR network and almost fully represented Research Staff Association, and the research conference had a large number of attendees and great speakers – cracking!

It’s been great to reconnect our RDS team after a few unsettling and disjointed years and move into our new home on the 8th floor of Studland House (complete with sea views!) Finally, a special shout out to Peng Peng Hatch for being awarded the Doctorate in Education!

Shelly Anne Stringer, Research Excellence Manager, RDS

A paper published by Dr Laura Renshaw-Vuillier, Dr Rachel Moseley and Dr Maddy Greville-Harris (entitled “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals with eating disorders: the role of emotion regulation and exploration of online treatment experiences”) was selected for the Best COVID-19 2022 Research Paper award in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

Professor Jan Wiener, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Science and Technology

Research reflections 2022: the year in numbers

2022 has been another great year for research and knowledge exchange at BU. From receiving our excellent REF 2021 results to securing prestigious external funding and supporting new research activity, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Across the coming days, we’ll be featuring stories and reflections from across the BU community, sharing some of their highlights from across the year.

To get us started, here are just some of the numbers that make up the year in research at BU…

We received 171 new awards, representing over £7.5 million in research income

94% of BU research was found to be internationally-recognised or above, with 19% world-leading in quality (REF 2021)

95.7% of our research was found to be delivering considerable impact or above. Nearly one third of our impact case studies achieved an outstanding (4*) impact score. (REF 2021)

We held 20 public engagement events (as part of our regular events series) – attended by 1,231 people

16 positions were funded in 3 new research clusters through the Research Capacity Transformation Scheme (RCaTs)

36 new academic members of staff joined BU

2 new research centres were established – the Centre for Sustainable Business Transformations and the Computing and Informatics Research Centre

27 articles were written by BU academics for The Conversation, which had over 987,000 reads across the world

We’d love to hear from you – please share your reflections, successes and stories from across 2022 in the comments or by emailing

Reflections on the 14th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference


Thank you to all of our presenters, poster exhibitors, session chairs and of course delegates who supported the 14th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference. It is always a highlight on the Doctoral College events calendar and we hope you all enjoyed the day.

The conference had an amazing buzz and vibrancy about it, and it was so nice to see so many PGRs and colleagues turn up to show their support and promoting our positive PGR research culture across BU.

Here is what some of our presenters and delegates had to say about the day:


Tomorrow – The 14th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference


Register to attend the 14th Annual Postgraduate Research Conference. We will be hosting a PGR poster exhibition in FG06 with over 40 research posters on display (our biggest exhibition yet!).

The conference will also see oral presentations presented via Zoom with a screening room in Create LT (spaces limited).

You can see the full programme with presentation and poster abstracts  in our conference brochure.

Online training opportunity: Writing for The Conversation

Would you like to build a media profile and take your research to a global audience?

Find out more about writing for The Conversation and have the chance to pitch your article ideas to one of their editors in an online training session on Wednesday 7 December.

BU is a partner of The Conversation, a news analysis and opinion website with content written by academics working with professional journalists.

The training session will run by one of The Conversation’s editors and will take place from 2pm – 3pm over Zoom.

It is open to all BU academics and PhD candidates who are interested in finding out more about working with The Conversation.

Learn how to consider the news potential of your expertise, make your writing accessible and engaging to a diverse range of audiences, and pitch your ideas.

Why write for The Conversation?

The Conversation is a great way to share research and informed comment on topical issues. Academics work with editors to write pieces, which can then be republished via a creative commons license.

Since we first partnered with The Conversation, articles by BU authors have had over 8.8 million reads and been republished by the likes of The i, Metro, and the Washington Post.

Book your place via Eventbrite

Find out more about our partnership with The Conversation on the Research Impact, Engagement and Communications Sharepoint site

Professor Dimitrios Buhalis recognised as Highly Cited Researcher by Clarivate for the third year

Congratulations to Professor Dimitrios Buhalis, who has been recognised by Clarivate™ as one of the world’s most influential researchers who have been most frequently cited by their peers over the last decade.

Dimitrios Buhalis

Clarivate provides information, data and insights to universities, nonprofits, funding organisations, publishers, corporations, government organisations and law firms across the world to help accelerate and advance innovation.

Fewer than 0.1% (1 in 1,000) of the world’s population of scientists and social scientists received the Highly Cited Researchers™ distinction in 2022.

Highly Cited Researchers have demonstrated significant and broad influence reflected in their publication of multiple highly cited papers over the last decade. These highly cited papers rank in the top 1% by citations for a field in the Web of Science™.

Professor Buhalis has been named as a Highly Cited Researcher in the field of Social Science for the past three years.

He said: “It is extremely rewarding to know that the research I’ve been doing in the last 30 years has been useful to many other researchers to build their research and develop this concept. It is also very rewarding to know that the research has an impact on society, bringing value to different stakeholders and communities around the world.

“Of course, the research has been happening with many collaborators, including students and researchers and colleagues from all over the world, and most have been co-authored with several of my 200 collaborators.”

Professor Buhalis is a strategic management and marketing expert with specialisms around information communication technology applications in the tourism, travel, hospitality and leisure industries.

“All my research is about relevance and impact on business practice and global policy and it is cutting edge,” he said.

‘It is forecasting the future and identifies enabling technologies that bring value to different stakeholders and, by doing so, designing a better future.”

He added: “Being able to forecast the future and identifying technologies that can support progress is a critical element of the research, and that is why it is published early, before other researchers engage in inquiry, and that’s why it’s widely cited.”

“My advice would be to follow your heart, make relevant and useful cutting edge research that contributes to society globally, and citation will follow.”

Conversation article: sport-induced traumatic brain injury – families reveal the ‘hell’ of living with the condition

BU’s Dr Keith Parry contributes to this article from The Conversation, sharing the experiences of family members of those with brain injuries as a result of sport…

Sport-induced traumatic brain injury: families reveal the ‘hell’ of living with the condition

San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr (centre) in action against Los Angeles Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd (left) and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald (right) an NFL game in California in 2022.

Matthew Smith, University of Winchester; Adam John White, Oxford Brookes University, and Keith Parry, Bournemouth University

This article is part of the Insights Uncharted Brain series.

Jill* looked drained as we sat down to speak about her late husband. It had been a long day. It was February 2020, and we had been conducting interviews at the Concussion Legacy Foundation family huddle.

Despite being tired, Jill, 47, was keen to be interviewed. She wanted to share what she had gone through and hoped her story might help others. We sat down in a quiet corner of the foyer of the Rosen Centre hotel in Orlando, Florida, and I listened to her speak for over 90 minutes.

You can listen to more articles from The Conversation, narrated by Noa, here.

She told me all about her husband, Michael, a larger-than-life character who was the “life and soul of the party”. She spoke about how he had played many sports and had experienced multiple diagnosed concussions playing American Football and lacrosse – but this never dimmed his enthusiasm for sports.

Jill described how his behaviour gradually changed. How he forgot simple tasks. How he became aggressive. How his behaviour had become so erratic, she didn’t feel they were welcome at social events anymore. She said:

You’re just watching somebody you love disappear before your eyes and it’s hell.

Then one day she was on the phone to her husband while he was at work and the call went quiet. Jill rushed to his office, only to find that he had taken his own life.

Jill was one of the 23 interviews we conducted with family members over the three days our research team spent at the Concussion Legacy Foundation event. Our conversations provided an insight into what it was like living with a former athlete with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s that has been caused by repetitive head impacts in contexts like sport and the military.

This story is part of Conversation Insights

The Insights team generates long-form journalism and is working with academics from different backgrounds who have been engaged in projects to tackle societal and scientific challenges.

The people we spoke to had been through so much. The confusion, hurt and despair of seeing the mind of someone they love gradually deteriorate seemed overwhelming. But we also saw some positive signs, such as how they wanted to share their stories to help others, and how there appeared to be a shared determination to change things for the better and to make sport safer so other families wouldn’t have to go through what they’d experienced.

Head injuries in sport

Chronic traumatic brain injury associated with boxing has been known about for around 100 years. In 1928, Harrison Martland first described chronic traumatic encephalopathy in retired boxers. It was first referred to as “punch-drunk syndrome” or “dementia pugilistica” and sometimes develops in boxers as a result of long-term sub-clinical concussions (not detectable by the usual clinical tests).

In 2002, neuropathologist Bennet Omalu examined the brain of Mike Webster, a former National Football League (NFL) player who died from a heart attack after his physical and mental health had rapidly deteriorated. Subsequently, former NFL players sued the league, claiming that they had received head trauma or injuries during their football careers, which caused them long-term neurological problems.

The VA-BU-CLF UNITE Brain Bank at Boston University is the largest tissue repository in the world focused on traumatic brain injury (TBI). In a 2017 study into the first 202 donated brains, high rates of CTE were found, with 177 diagnosed with CTE, including 110 of 111 from the NFL players (99%). The brain bank now has over 1,000 brains from donors as young as 14 who have been exposed to brain traumas, primarily from playing sport. Studying these brains is crucial, not only for preventing, diagnosing and treating CTE, but also understanding the long-term consequences of concussion and traumatic brain injury.

Subsequent research from Boston University’s CTE Center in 2019 found that every year of playing full tackle American football increases the risk of developing CTE by 30%. So for every 2.6 years of playing, the risk of developing CTE doubles.

But the problem is not isolated to American sports. Compared with most other sports, rugby union has a relatively high injury rate, including at school level in the UK where it is often a compulsory sport. In addition, it has been reported that there is about one brain injury per match in international rugby.

Demise of England’s ‘lions’

In football, concussion often results from accidental head impacts (like head-to-head collisions or collisions with the goalposts). But a growing number of studies have shown that detrimental sub-concussive impacts (a bump, blow or jolt to the head that does not cause symptoms) may result from repeatedly heading the ball. And there have been an increasing number of high-profile examples in recent years who have been raising awareness of this issue.

In late 2020, three incidents shifted attitudes on the dangers of football. First, Norbert “Nobby” Stiles, a member of England’s 1966 Fifa World Cup winning team, died. Stiles had been diagnosed with dementia and the cause of this disease was linked to repeated heading of the ball in his career.

Then, it was announced that Sir Bobby Charlton, another World Cup winning hero, had also been diagnosed with dementia. He was the second member of his family to suffer with this disease as his brother, Jack (who played in the same winning team) had died earlier in the year after his own battle with dementia.

Bobby Charlton was thus the fifth of the 11 starting players in the 1966 final to have been diagnosed with neurological diseases. Media reports have linked all of these cases to the repeated heading of footballs during their playing careers.

But the first case that drew attention to the link between football and traumatic brain injury was that of Jeff Astle. Following his death in 2002, the coroner’s verdict at the inquest into his death at the age of 59 recorded a verdict of “death by industrial disease”, linked to heading heavy, often rain-sodden, leather footballs. Astle’s health had deteriorated – he had struggled with an eating disorder and was unable to recognise his children.

Astle’s daughter, Dawn, has become a leading figure in the campaign to protect footballers. She presented evidence to the 2020 DCMS committee on concussion and brain injury in sport. Her submission to the committee included the following comment:

My dad choked to death in front of me, my mum and my sisters. Please think about that for one minute. He choked to death because his brain had been destroyed. Destroyed because he was a footballer. I don’t want any other family to go through what my family went through, and continue to go through every day. Please don’t let my dad’s death and all the other footballers deaths be in vain. My dad was my hero and my best friend. His death will haunt me forever.

Families speak out

In February 2020, our team of five researchers were invited by Chris Nowinski, the CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, to Orlando. The CLF is an international non-profit organisation that aims to support athletes affected by head injury, and to assist patients and families by providing personalised help to those struggling with the outcomes of brain injury.

Our interviews were conducted at their “family huddle”, which was a support event for family members to allow them to share stories and connect with others who have had similar experiences.

We were given the opportunity to talk to family members, and build trust and rapport. This gave us a greater insight and understanding of their world. We conducted interviews with the partners, parents, siblings and the children of the deceased athletes.

Our research, published in The Qualitative Report, was presented as an ethnodrama (playscript) to best allow the stories of the family members to be heard. This also showed the distinct temporal phases that these family members went through, and by sharing these stories we hope this raises awareness of the powerful emotions they have experienced.

Uncharted Brain, podcast series

This article is accompanied by a podcast series called Uncharted Brain: Decoding Dementia which examines new research unlocking clues to the ongoing mystery of how dementia works in the brain. Listen to the full series via The Anthill podcast.

Disbelief and confusion

Many of the people we spoke to said the initial stage, when they started to see changes in the behaviour of their loved one, created very strong emotions because they couldn’t understand why this was happening. They had seen someone they loved decline in front of their eyes. Alice, 68, reflected on seeing this change in her husband: “He went from functioning perfectly, to struggling to remember or do anything he was so used to doing.”

People went on to recall specific instances when this behavioural decline became noticeable. For example, David told us this about his brother: “Once when he went to the airport to pick up my aunt. He proceeded to drive her around, and she finally said, ‘Where are we going?’” He replied that he didn’t know.

There was evidence of a mounting feeling of hopelessness that declines in neurological functioning were causing. Another striking, distressing example was this story Sophie told about her husband:

One weekend, I had 12 big black trash bags to go out to the garbage. And I told him when I got up and went to work on Monday morning, I said, ‘those are going out to the trash tomorrow’. I came home after work and he had unpacked every trash bag … I just sat there and cried … I’d worked a 12-hour day. I said, ‘why did you unpack all that trash?’ and he couldn’t tell me why. He just didn’t know.

Others reinforced other emotions at seeing this happening to their loved one. Emily explained how she felt: “I do think at the start you are in this sense of disbelief because the person you love is doing these things that are out of character.” And Evelyn reflected on the sadness of seeing such changes:

I was shocked, but also felt like the world had been turned upside down. We were so happy. I remember just sobbing.

Researchers have previously highlighted the emotional consequences that family members experience when they witness the decline of their loved one. For example, one 2019 study involving interviews with 20 wives of either current or retired professional American football players, revealed their serious concerns about the cognitive, emotional and behavioural decline of these players. Some wives identified behavioural changes that included rage, reduced positive social interactions and various erratic behaviour, like starting risky business ventures.

As we also found, deterioration in cognitive functioning meant that those affected by traumatic brain injury were no longer able to carry out simple household tasks and often struggled with language problems.

Anger, guilt and fear

Another study, which examined families who have experienced a severe traumatic brain injury outside of sport highlighted the difficulties caused by the uncertainty of the situation – both in terms of the progression of the illness and how to support and deal with the cognitive, physical and behavioural changes exhibited after the injury.

All of this presents huge challenges to families. Negotiating appropriate treatment is hard and the emotional and physical exhaustion of dealing with these difficulties just keeps mounting up for the people involved.

Our participants explained the toll it took on them as they saw first-hand the severe changes in behaviour as their loved one experienced further decline. For example, Katherine said she felt drained and responsible. “It’s hard because you don’t know what’s happening,” she said. “So you just blame yourself and think you are the reason. And that’s not good for your own wellbeing.”

Helen spoke about her intense feelings as her partner drank as a response to his condition:

I was so angry at him for making the same choices over and over with drinking though. Like, “you’ve drank so much that you fell down the stairs in front of me at home, are you kidding me?” And it hurt, you know, and left a lot on my plate, so I was really, really, angry. And that didn’t help things.

Changes in behaviour created further problems for family members, such as how their loved one was perceived in social situations. Elizabeth described one specific incident at a party:

We went to a catered event, and he would take the top of the [burger] bun off, take the meat out to eat, put the bun back, and then go to the next one. And someone caught him and was like, “what is he doing?” Of course, we never got invited back to any of those people’s homes. No one wanted to have anything to do with him because they couldn’t understand him.

Laura also spoke about the implications of a lack of understanding of this condition, highlighting how others would misinterpret her husband’s actions. This led to feelings of sadness as they became socially isolated from their friends. She said: “When we went to events, a lot of people thought he was an alcoholic, because he could have one cocktail and then he’d fall. They had no idea that the falling had nothing to do with that one drink that he had. And it became very sad because people didn’t want to have us around.”

Our participants also spoke of the burden as a result of effectively becoming their partner’s primary caregiver. Sophie spoke about the struggles she faced with supporting her husband with daily tasks. “I couldn’t physically handle him,” she said. “At that point he was unstable. He would shuffle, and fall, and he couldn’t get in and out of the shower. He was also incontinent, and I couldn’t handle him by myself. I felt so weak.”

Evelyn also spoke of these experiences, highlighting that the physical size of her partner caused significant strain. “The sheer problem with these guys was their physical size. As the disease progressed, he fell probably 10-15 times a day, and we’d have to figure out how to get him up. I was both physically and mentally exhausted,” Evelyn said.

Meanwhile, others spoke of the physical fear of danger they felt. Like Emily who told us:

I did become scared of him. I hate to say that, but I did. He made me sign some papers and I had no idea what they were. He was just escalating and escalating, and he was standing over me and I just knew if I didn’t sign that paper, I was in physical danger. Which was an awful thought to have about your own husband that you love.

Moving forward

Our interviews gave family members the chance to reflect on their time living with and caring for their loved one, and also, how they might approach the situation differently. Helen told us she wished she had taken more time for herself, and advised anybody going through a similar situation to “get into therapy, to help you process everything and to let you have an outlet”.

Katherine agreed, saying: “You’ve got to try and take some time for yourself. I remember I took a trip with a girlfriend once and I was scared to death the whole time I was gone, but I went, and we had a wonderful time, and I’m so glad I did it. You know, trying to keep some semblance of normalcy in your life for yourself, for your own good. Try to keep yourself healthy, eat healthily, work out. Keep yourself well because there really was nothing, I could do for him except be present. I couldn’t make him well.”

Other family members reflected on the dangers of certain sports. For example, Alice highlighted how her awareness had increased, giving her the knowledge and understanding to allow her to come to terms with her husband’s situation. She realised there were “significant pathologies” that he had no control over that affected his decision-making.

His brain was still functioning, and he was still able to make decisions, just the wrong parts of the brain were directing his decisions. That totally makes sense now, so that’s been a huge relief, that he wasn’t just an asshole in his own right, he really just couldn’t control it.

While our data contained accounts full of sadness, participants also reflected on different ways they were moving forwards in a positive way after experiencing the death of a loved one. Laura detailed the benefits of attending the huddle and being with people who had been through similar struggles: “Everyone here is in the same boat. It may not have looked exactly the same for us, but we don’t have to explain for once. And just the support I’ve got from the people here has been great.”

Others talked about how the support helped the grieving process and inspired them to get involved and help other families. For example, Evelyn spoke of the need to make changes at a junior sport level: “I’m just so concerned this horrible disease is hitting younger and younger people, yet no one knows about it … giving people the information to be able to make the correct decision is super important.”

The final word goes to Elizabeth, who had become involved in the support work of the CLF, and spoke of her new found purpose to help others. She said it helped make her loss “bearable” because “millions” might benefit and “hopefully not have to experience the kind of tragedy that affected our family”.

I feel like part of the reason this happened is for me to be part of raising more awareness and be a part of this movement towards new culture change. I can help families navigate … the difficult waters of dealing with this. And so, I feel like it speaks to sort of a calling … I have in life or part of my purpose.


What is clear to us after concluding this research project is that greater recognition of the challenges faced by both those living with diseases of the brain, such as CTE, and their carers is needed.

We heard about the devastating losses and tragedies. But we were also privileged to highlight more positive stories that showed how people were able to move forwards and help others to create a constructive change in sport so others won’t have to suffer.

It also illustrates how neurodegenerative disease resulting from head trauma as a consequence of impact sports has far reaching effects – not only the athletes, but also those around them. This represents a growing public health concern and societal problem.

It shows that greater recognition of the challenges faced by both those living with diseases of the brain, such as CTE, and their carers, is needed.

We hope their stories will stimulate discussion and be used to support people who might be going through similar experiences. Our findings might be used to help practitioners, sporting governing bodies and charities such as the CLF, to understand more fully these negative emotional responses and, in turn, consider strategies that might be developed to support people. In turn, these organisations must also act to address the causes of head injuries to make sports safer.

All names in this article have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved.

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Matthew Smith, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, University of Winchester; Adam John White, Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University, and Keith Parry, Deputy Head Of Department in Department of Sport & Event Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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New monograph by Professor Hywel Dix explores the cultural ramifications of Brexit

Compatriots or Competitors? Welsh, Scottish, English and Northern Irish Writing and Brexit in Comparative Contexts is the first study of the distinctive literatures and cultures that developed in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland since political devolution in the late 1990s, especially surrounding Brexit. The book argues that in conceptualising their cultures as ‘national’, each nation is caught up in a creative tension between emulating forms of cultural production found in the others to assert common aspirations, and downplaying those connections in order to forge a sense of cultural distinctiveness. It explores the resulting dilemmas, with chapters analysing the growth of the creative industries; the relationship between UK City of Culture and its forerunner, the European Capital of Culture; national book prizes in Britain and Europe; British variations on Nordic Noir TV; and the Brexit novel. The study builds on 3 years of research and is published this week by University of Wales Press.