President’s column - Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes
And so another BPS year comes to an end, and we are now nearly 110 (or 115, depending upon when you start the clock). And what a year! A really successful Annual Conference in Liverpool, including some keynotes that kept the press busy for weeks, the celebration of our 50,000th member (and we are well past that figure now and heading towards our next milestone of 55,000), the historic election of a psychologist (Dr Lisa Cameron) as an MP, equally historic new Memoranda of Understanding with the 130 year-old Russian Psychological Society and the much younger Psychological Society of Ireland, and a dynamic, positive and inspirational General Assembly, at least according to several of the members who attended. As the structural review takes shape, the wonderful work of our Branches, Special Groups, Sections and Divisions goes on, all promoting ‘the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied’, as our Charter Objects say that we should be doing. No wonder we feel tired!
Speaking of which, my themes for this month, as the year draws to a close, are age and ageing, together with neuropsychology and dementia, and so I wanted to share with you some of the wonderful work that is going on and being carried out by your fellow members up and down the country and across the four nations. Dementia is one of the biggest challenges that many of us face as in our professional and personal lives, and so it demands new ways of thinking and doing, but psychological knowledge has a great potential in supporting policy and practice through this transformational change process.
The Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty of the Psychology of Older People (FPOP) has been working with the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia Action Alliance, and in close co-operation with a wide network of Dementia Service users through the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP, on a series of Dementia Workstream papers, the last of which was Psychological Alternatives to the Prescribing of Antipsychotic Medication (in Dementia) and in the spring the remaining chapter, Communicating about a Diagnosis of Dementia is to be published, along with an accessible version of the entire suite of papers. The papers are available on www.bps.org.uk/fpop. Further FPOP workstreams are looking at inpatient working with older people, mild cognitive impairment, and neurodegenerative diseases, while some of the geographical groups are putting on CPD events on therapy with older people. Another example of work is the BPS-wide Dementia Advisory Group (DAG), chaired by Linda Clare, whose position paper on dementia is now completed and due to be printed by January. Lastly, at next year’s BPS conference there will be a symposium on clinical psychology with older people, looking at some of the issues generally not associated with older people, such as HIV, drug and alcohol dependency and sexuality.
In Northern Ireland, and extremely mindful as we are that we should use our knowledge and expertise in this area to exert influence on policy and practice, the British Psychological Society in Northern Ireland held a conference at Stormont on 30 November, which I was delighted to be able to attend in order to represent the wider Society, advising politicians and policy makers. This conference brought together our national and regional experts in the area to the heart of government in Northern Ireland, supported by the suite of publications that the Society has produced in dementia. The importance of tailored psychological assessments and interventions, together with psychologically informed services in general, was also promoted to inform Northern Ireland’s own dementia strategy.
In Scotland, members of the Society who have long played a significant role in transforming practice and thinking about dementia are actively engaged in helping to develop Scotland’s Third Dementia Strategy, due to launch next year. For example, Dr Jacqueline Wilson and Dr Belinda Hacking, with Alzheimer’s Scotland, held an expert reference group on behaviour support and the stepped care model of behaviour support as described in our 2013 BPS good practice guide. There was a unanimous decision taken to promote psychological assessment, formulation and psychosocial interventions and a matched, stepped care behaviour support model with the Scottish Government, in order to meet the needs of clients with advanced dementia and behavioural issues which can cause care to break down and as a safer option than the prescription of antipsychotic medication.
Dr Wilson also promoted a psychological model of behaviour support at the Scottish Cross-Party Parliamentary group this year with the message that NHS Trusts should aim to provide alternative service models to a purely medical model, by investment in preventative psychological approaches and via multidisciplinary teams for behaviour support, with psychology leaders. Psychologists provide the research expertise, the clinical governance and training knowledge and skill. No advanced dementia strategy, we would argue, should be without behaviour support psychological models and interventions throughout the client and caregiver dementia journey.
In order to bring psychology into the heart of the debate in Scotland, Scottish Branch and Alzheimer’s Scotland are planning a roundtable event next year that will bring together policy makers and psychologists from across the Society to help to inform and shape the new Dementia Strategy in Scotland. This is a real opportunity to show what we can achieve when we work flexibly across our boundaries, pooling our knowledge and expertise. There is a big and important prize – transforming the lived experience of people with dementia – and it is one that lies within our grasp for significant leadership.
Meanwhile, in Wales, the Centre for Innovative Ageing (CIA) is a leading global interdisciplinary research centre in social gerontology based in Swansea University, South Wales. Psychologists, geographers, sociologists and technologists work together to produce innovative world-leading research to directly positively impact on the lives of older adults both in the UK and internationally. Working under the three themes of Participation, Social and Supportive Relationships, Environments of Ageing and Networks and Translational Work, staff in the CIA are producing research informing Welsh Government policy and shaping research on a global stage. Current research includes work on identifying factors that can delay or prevent the onset of dementia, alleviation of loneliness, transnational relationships and modifying implicit attitudes towards older adults. With the central tenet being impactful research, the Centre for Innovative Ageing is at the vanguard of psychosocial research on ageing, engaging novel methodologies, and holding older people at the core.
Our neuropsychologists have a unique role to play too as, as a society, we urgently need to consider the psychological needs of those who have neurological conditions. Over two million people are affected, yet within the NHS this remains a neglected area, although providing for people’s psychological needs is a key part of meeting the government’s aim for parity of esteem in the NHS between physical and mental health needs.
Neuropsychologists, as specialists in psychology as applied to neurological conditions, provide expertise on how physical changes in the brain can impact on people’s cognition, behaviour and emotions. Thus they can help inform to an accurate diagnosis of what type of dementia someone has, for example, or which parts of the brain are affected by epilepsy; provide the treatments and support that help people adapt to changes in their emotions, memory or how they process information; and afford vital assistance for carers to cope with and understand these changes.
All of the above are examples of how the Society needs to work in the modern UK. We need to be able to work with the complexity of our structures to harness and build our knowledge and apply it in increasingly devolved policy settings. There is an undeniably large number of bodies, agencies and Society subsystems with an interest on dementia. Our challenge as a Society is to work hard, creatively and constructively, in order to bring the work of all our subsystems and networks together into a coherent and authoritative voice that will have a significant impact on dementia policy throughout the four nations that make up our United Kingdom.
Some of you may have detected another theme here as well as the primary themes of age and dementia. The theme is one of cooperation and collaboration. I have been privileged to visit six of our ten Branches, eight of our ten Divisions, two of our three Special Groups and four of our Sections throughout the year and I have witnessed, and been really impressed by, real cooperation and collaboration between networks. The themes of cooperation and collaboration were ones that shone out of the General Assembly, and they are themes that we are now taking forward though the structural review. The best way of ‘advancing and diffusing the knowledge of psychology, pure and applied’ is together. Together we can!
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday and a well-deserved rest, and looking forward to a cooperative, constructive and communicative 2016.
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