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Elderly woman carer right hand

The study has improved quality of life for people with dementia

Pioneering Exeter dementia research nominated for higher education “Oscars”

A pioneering research project to improve lives for people with dementia in care homes has been nominated for a prestigious award.

Work led by academics at the University of Exeter Medical School has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education awards, known as the “Oscars” of higher education.

The Improving Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD), has improved quality of life and reduced agitation and aggression in people with dementia, and mortality rates. WHELD has been nominated for STEM Research Project of the Year.

Led by Professor Clive Ballard at the University of Exeter Medical School, the research team has worked to introduce personalised care and improve social interaction into care homes. Experts trained care home staff to be able to talk to residents about their interests and decisions around their own care.

Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “I’m delighted to see our WHELD study shortlisted in such prestigious awards. Our research tells us that this programme improves quality of life and reduces agitation and aggression for people with dementia in care homes, some of the most vulnerable in our society. We now need more commitment to rolling this out nationwide to give people the high-quality care they deserve.”

WHELD is the first programme to show benefits to quality of life for people with dementia in care homes.

Funded by NIHR and led by the University of Exeter with King’s College London and the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, it involved systematic reviews, stakeholder therapy development groups, two large clinical trials in more than 1,000 participants with dementia across 85 care homes, and a proactive dissemination programme involving extensive GP training. It has contributed to halving the number of antipsychotic drugs prescribed to people with dementia in the UK.

An economic impact analysis shows WHELD saves money compared to standard care. So far, WHELD has been rolled out to care homes across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and South London and parts of China, and will shortly be available within Devon and Cornwall. The team is working on further UK-wide expansion.

Professor Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter, said: “We are extremely proud of our colleagues, who have been nominated for such prestigious awards. I’m sure the biggest prize for them is to know how much their work will help others, but it’s wonderful to see it recognised in this way, and we wish them luck for the ceremony in November.”

Professor Liz Trinder, of the university’s Law School, was also nominated for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Research Project of the Year. Her research led directly to government proposed divorce legislation to introduce no-fault divorce, to prevent family conflict and end the blame game.

Date: 12 September 2019