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One of the things that sometimes happens when a person receives a diagnosis of dementia is that their life shrinks. They may have been enjoying an active life, and continue to have work, family or caring responsibilities, but hearing the word ‘dementia’ can conjure up fears about safety, and the need to scale back potentially risky activities. Loved ones may feel a need to protect the person with dementia. It is certainly true that people with advanced dementia may become confused and find themselves lost or in difficulty when in unfamiliar or even well-known places. But the journey from early diagnosis to late stages of the condition may be a long one, and the goal of health professionals is to maintain or enhance the individual’s quality of life for the longest time possible.
Esme Wood from Coventry University’s Centre for Technology Enabled Health Research is currently conducting a doctoral research project, looking at the role that technology might play in helping people with dementia enjoy outdoor activities. Can safer walking technology help reduce or delay life shrinking? If you or someone you know might be interested in taking part, please see Esme’s video on YouTube.
Esme has also reviewed the literature on safer walking technology. You can read her work at
Inspired by David Sedaris’ tale in The New Yorker (he cheerfully combines healthy exercise with compulsive litter picking) I decided to invest in a Fitbit. This neat little wrist band has the facility to record the number of steps you take in any given day, as well as monitoring some aspects of sleep duration and quality.
Many people now use Fitbits to monitor their health, and use the companion website (and various apps and add-ons) to record dietary, drinking and other health behaviours. An Apple device that promises to record the same data and more is due out in spring 2015.
Health psychology trainees starting this autumn are well placed to design studies exploring the impact of Fitbit and other personal health monitoring devices. US users can already sign up to earn material rewards for their physical activity. If the same incentives were introduced in the UK, how effective might they be in motivating behaviour change?
The Fitbit can only record a limited range of data at present, and users have to enter honestly any deviations from their planned dietary schedule. If the Fitbit doesn’t know, do the calories still count 😉 ?
Think of psychological research and the image that comes to mind might be completing a questionnaire, looking at some inkblots or perhaps participating in a bizarre social experiment. Psychological research methodologies encompass a much wider range of techniques and approaches. Some may seem deceptively low tech – such as focus groups and individual interviews, diaries and participant observations. However, health psychologists increasingly draw on information technology, social media and sophisticated electronic devices to conduct their research and put their theories into practice.
In the past year alone, students on the MSc health psychology did independent and collaborative research using interviews/focus groups to explore a range of topics including
- The attitudes of healthcare staff to providing positive birth experiences
- Academic midwifery perspectives on teaching about maternal obesity
- The experience of early stage dementia sufferers and their partners
- Barriers and facilitators to health promotion for South Asian people
- Young women’s beliefs about long-acting reversible contraception
- Service users and providers’ perspectives on stress management through vocational rehabilitation in schizophrenia
- South Asian fathers’ perspectives on childhood obesity
Previous students have used online surveys and studies of internet discussion forums to explore the experiences of patients and their families, for example, what it is like to be an elderly person whose adult son or daughter becomes increasingly disabled by multiple sclerosis.
Some of our outgoing MSc health psych students also designed a smart phone app to improve self management for adolescent boys with type 1 diabetes. An important consideration was that the app should work on the latest and most desirable mobile handset.
We already have close links with staff in the University’s Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions, where numerous projects have harnessed technology to address issues as diverse as breastfeeding and adolescent sexual health. For 2013/14 we are hoping to work more closely with the university’s Health Design & Technology Institute and Serious Games Institute, with a view to realising some of the products our MSc students have designed.
Meanwhile we’ve welcomed a new piece of kit to Psychology & Behavioural Sciences in the form of an advanced eye tracker. There is a lot of scope for staff and postgraduate research using this facility. Being able to trace and record accurately where a person’s eyes are roaming is an excellent adjunct to more traditional research methods. For example, we can ask research participants whether they attend to nutritional information that’s presented on food labels or restaurant menus. Now we’ll be able to check what they actually look at and for how long. We might also be able to find out how people really navigate through health information websites, interact with health behaviour change apps and so on. Just need to check if the machine that makes all of this possible really does go ‘ping’.
Small print: This isn’t our actual machine – it is too fresh out of the packaging to be cornered for a photograph. Pic courtesy of wiki commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eyetracker1.jpg
Just had a quick glance at the scientific programme for the BPS Division of Health Psychology conference. It’s in Brighton 11-13 September.
At first look, here are a few highlights from folk who’ve completed our course or contibuted as guest lecturers. Apologies if I’ve left anyone out…
Development of a theoretically grounded health promotion app for childhood weight management
K Curtis, K Brown* & J Wyatt
Predicting breastfeeding duration from Theory of Planned Behaviour and socio-demographic variables
N Bartle**, O Dunn*, S Law & L Wallace**
Dementia – the new ‘c’ word? Self-management programmes (SMPs) for people in the early stages of dementia (PESD) and their carers
C Bourne, A Turner**, N Bradbury, N Belsham & J Aird
Meet the parents: Can group based self-management improve psychological well-being and reduce psychological distress for parent caregivers of children with ASD and/or ADHD?
P Joshi, D McHattie, C Malin, W Dingley, R Edwards & A Turner**
South Asians are not any different? Core versus targeted approaches to self management programmes (SMP) for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities C Grant-Pearce**, B Chandaria, & B Vakil, F Martin & A Turner**
New balls please!” Development and evaluation of a 4 hour self-management workshop for testicular cancer survivors
A Turner**, C Bourne, F Martin, B Lynn & A Lynall
People with hyperlinks are former students on the MSc health psych.
* Katherine and Orla are former course directors for the MSc health psych.
**Naomi, Louise, Andy and Carol are recent contributors to our teaching.
As some of you may already know, we invite staff from the Applied Research Centre in Health & Lifestyle Interventions to visit our Professional Practice class each year to pitch research opportunities to MSc dissertation students. This is really a two way process, in which students can suggest their own project ideas and try matching up with a supervisor, rather than simply slotting in to existing studies. Staff from within the core health psychology teaching team will also have research opportunities available. All students with a project supervisor from the research centre also have a second supervisor from within the core teaching team. This is to ensure continuity and provide consistency of advice and assessment.
This year’s Pageant/Dragon’s Den will be Thursday 17th October 3.30-5.30 pm. Room and cast to be confirmed. No tears anticipated. Business dress optional 🙂
In their Huffington Post blog Dr Raj Persaud and Kathleen A. Martin Ginis recently cited work done by a student on our MSc Health Psych course. Persaud and Martin Ginis pointed out that an august British broadsheet promoted a photo story scrutinising the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-pregnancy figure over coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Syria. This, the bloggers argue, reflects a general trend towards media obsession with women’s weight gain during pregnancy and the ‘race’ to return to a pre-pregnancy shape.
One Australian study was cited, suggesting that popular media coverage of celebrity pregnancy glamorises post-partum weight loss. Our student Shahreen Bashir and her co-authors Liz Sparkes, Kubra Anwar and Ellinor Olander countered with evidence that British women (at least) report paying little heed to the ‘role modelling’ offered by celebrity stories.
Shahreen conducted this research for her MSc Health Psychology Dissertation and we’re very pleased to see it is contributing to public debate.
Photo credit: Christopher Neve http://www.flickr.com/photos/43003235@N04/9355181254/in/photostream/
Congratulations to our MSc Health Psychology students who got their dissertation marks today. This was the last piece of assessed work on the course.
We know that some of you already have plans for your next career step, and we hope that all of you will stay in touch. Some of you have already expressed an interest in coming back as guest speakers. And for those who have been too shy to ask – don’t worry – we’ll probably email and pester you!
If you are free, we’d love you to come and meet our new cohort of students at induction day on Tuesday 24th September. The Dean’s welcome talk for new starters will be 09.30-09.45 in Charles Ward Building 215. Further details of the timetable for the day will follow soon.
Course Director, MSc Health Psychology.