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Spotlight - Professor Claire Surr

About me

I took an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Human Studies when my interest in dementia was sparked by my Psychology lecturer who was Prof Tom Kitwood, a leading figure in the field. I also, at that time, had personal experience of a family member being diagnosed with the condition. On completing my degree I was successful in being appointed to a funded PhD in Dementia Studies, looking at how people living with dementia in care homes were supported or not supported to maintain their sense of identity.

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I have worked in the field ever since in a range of research and teaching positions. I am particularly passionate about and interested in how we support health and social care professionals to learn about dementia and to develop the knowledge and skills they need to deliver good dementia care. In particular how we can do this in innovative and engaging ways, making learning accessible for all. I was named a National Teachign Fellow by the Higher Education Academy in 2014, recognising my contribution to innovative education in this field.

Since joining Leeds Beckett University I have focused more on conducting research on dementia care, although I do still enjoy delivering lectures to students from across a range of courses.

My current research

I am currently leading or involved with a number of research projects that are either ongoing or have recently ended and we are busy sharing the findings with academic, practitioner and lay audiences.

We have a portfolio of research looking at the needs of people who are living with both cancer and dementia. This is a relatively un-researched area and so we hope our research will help to identify areas of need and guide the focus of future studies. The portfolio includes the ‘CanDem’ study, which is funded by the National institute for Health Research. The study is using anonymised data from GP records to look at the size, characteristics and healthcare use of this population. We are also interviewing people with both conditions, their family members and hospital cancer department staff, about the issues this patient group. The researchers are also observing the experiences of people with cancer and dementia when they attend hospital for cancer treatment and care. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Leeds we have funding from Macmillan Cancer Support to use the same GP records to look at the characteristic of people who have cancer alongside a range of other long-term health conditions. We have three PhD students conducting studies in the area of cancer and dementia. One is looking at the support needs of family caregivers of people with cancer and dementia. One funded by the Abbeyfield Society is looking at the care and support of people with cancer and dementia in nursing homes. The third, funded by the Alzheimer’s Society is looking at the care and support needs of people with cancer and dementia living in residential homes.

I am also very interested in how we help care homes to support people with dementia. I have recently completed a large randomised controlled trial looking at how effective and cost-effective a practice development method called ‘Dementia Care Mapping’ is at helping to reduce how agitated care home residents with dementia are. We recruited 50 care homes from across the UK to the study and over 1000 residents. We are currently sharing the findings from this study. I am also involved with a randomised controlled trial looking at whether electric nerve stimulation, using a machine similar to those used to relieve pain, can help improve urinary incontinence in care home residents. This is being led by academics at Glasgow Caledonian University.  

We have a number of PhD and other research projects in the area of sport, physical activity and dementia. I am currently leading an independent evaluation for a project funded by Sport England, and carried out by the Sporting Memories Network. They run weekly sports-based reminiscence groups in the community for older people who are living with dementia, depression and social isolation. The project is looking at whether introducing an hour of physical activity into the groups can increase people’s physical activity outside of group sessions as well as improving things such as their well-being and social contact with others. We are collecting and analysing the data. We hope to include up to 750 older people in the study over the project. We have three PhD students within the centre for dementia Research working in this area. One is looking at the impact of attending weekly Sporting Memories reminiscence groups for men with dementia. One is looking at developing physical activity guidelines for people with dementia. The third is looking at whether use of an interactive table-based game called Torveltafel can help to improve physical activity levels and well-being on people with moderate to severe dementia.

Transforming dementia care: "Our goal is to help people with dementia and their families experience a better quality of life" - Professor Claire Surr - School of Health and Community Studies

Future plans

In 2017 I established the Centre for Dementia Research at Leeds Beckett University, which provides a platform to bring together academics interested in dementia research from across a range of disciplines. Our aim is to grow the amount of dementia research we undertake at the University, as well as the number of staff who conduct research in this field. In addition to our already established programmes of work on cancer and dementia (in collaboration with Health Psychology) and on physical activity and dementia (with colleagues from the School of Sport), which we plan to build on, we are also looking to extend activity in other field. For example, we are aiming to expand our research in the field of the arts and dementia (working with colleagues from the School of Film, Media and Performing Arts), building on two existing PhDs we have in the areas of theatre and therapeutic art intervention. These are exciting times as I work with colleagues to develop and grow this work.