Sussex countryside

“People open up their homes to us and share emotional and personal stories”

This is the first post in a series where we talk to members of the DETERMIND team about their work. Research Assistant Rachel Nethercott is first up.

Why did you get involved in the DETERMIND project?
I was finishing up my Experimental Psychology MSc and even before my dissertation was submitted, I was rearing to get involved in research and put my new skills and knowledge into practice. The DETERMIND project particularly spoke to me as it was investigating the inequalities in dementia care and looking to really improve lives for people with dementia and their carers. We know that there are inequalities in people’s journeys with dementia and the DETERMIND project is ready to investigate these and bring about real change in guidelines and policy. My undergraduate degree was in politics and I have always been passionate about the role that the social, political and cultural environment plays and what can be done to improve it. With the number of people diagnosed with dementia only increasing, it is never too soon to start making things better for people and their families, friends and carers.

What have you learned and enjoyed so far about the project?
The first few months of this role have been incredibly rewarding. People have opened up their homes to us and shared with us some emotional and personal stories. I’ve been so touched by people’s hospitality and generosity. In addition, this has really emphasized the importance of research, both for the future and for those who take part. It might be the only opportunity someone has had to talk about their experiences, frustrations and worries. I’ve also enjoyed getting out of the office and seeing more of the beautiful Sussex countryside.

These few months have also taught me so much about the day to day life of someone with dementia and the lives of everyone who cares for and supports them. What I’ve learnt goes beyond the medical definitions of what dementia is and has shown me how it affects (or doesn’t!) people and what it really means to them to be given that diagnosis.

How might you use this experience in your future career?
I have been very grateful to start my research career in a project that is making such a meaningful contribution. Looking forward, I will hopefully use this experience to build a career around research and clinical psychology. This role has given me invaluable insight into what is involved in a research study, as well as what it is like to live with dementia. It’s also encouraged me to pause and take the time with each and every person and recognize that no two people have the same experience, thoughts or feelings. This is a philosophy I hope to take with me, no matter what I go on to do.

Rachel Nethercott is a Research Assistant on the DETERMIND project, based at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.