Tula Brannelly, University of Southampton
For the past few weeks, to let people know about the research project Using Technology for Safer Walking, I have visited many Hampshire memory cafes and other meeting places. I have met with people with dementia, their families, volunteers, Alzheimers Society workers, Admiral Nurses, Dementia Advisers and musicians. I have drank plenty of tea and been enthralled by the reception we have had to this research project so far.
The people I have met have offered thoughts and ideas about how to stay safe out walking, and what is especially important for them, now or in the past. I have been asked pertinent questions about how the GPS system works – the technology is thought of as interesting and useful. People have shared technologies that they use themselves, such as locators and alarms that help them feel safer should they need them.
There has also been discussion about the potential and limitations of technologies, asking the same questions that we are raising through this research – when will they work, for whom and how will people get used to them to know they are useful. What care may be needed from others, such as family members, to know that the technology will function? Are there other concerns that may limit a person from walking independently and what other things may help those too?
People with dementia and their families talked about their love of walking, their previous walking activities such as walking holidays, times they enjoy together, and how their activities may have changed a bit, but they still maintained them for as long as possible. People with dementia who are able to continue walking independently have talked about how it is important to get out on their own, to continue to be independent. There were many stories of near misses, or anxiety about getting lost, but finding their way back eventually, sometimes with help, and sometimes not.
At this stage of sharing information about the project, it has been a pleasure to hear these stories, and to have the project greeted with enthusiasm as it tells me as a researcher that we are on the right track. People with dementia are pleased to hear that research like this is underway to help people in the future. Thanks to everyone I have met, and especially to the Alzheimers Society and Andover Mind organisers of the groups, for the tea and hospitality.