Dr Maggie Ellis
My first degree is an MA Hons in Psychology obtained in June, 2001 at the University of Dundee. I conducted my doctoral research part-time whilst working as a research assistant on two consecutive EPSRC funded projects and was awarded a PhD in 2009. Supervised by Professor Arlene Astell, my doctoral work focused on the impact of the facilitation of communication between people at all stages of dementia and their professional and family caregivers. The following link will take you to a PDF of my thesis: http://research-repository.st-andrews.ac.uk/handle/10023/844
My first encounter with people with dementia was as a volunteer for Alzheimer Scotland, Dundee Service in 2001. Since then, I have amassed significant knowledge and experience of working with people with dementia, their friends, family and caregivers. My research portfolio includes the research and development of positive interventions to support people to live well with dementia. As the senior researcher on the COBALT Project, I was engaged in creating novel methods for gathering and disseminating naturalistic data about technology use from older people living in a range of community settings. This built on my experience over twelve years of working on the ‘CIRCA’ and ‘LIM’ projects to develop and evaluate novel interventions to support positive communication and care relationships between people living dementia and those who care for them.
In the past four years I have authored and co-authored fifteen publications for both peer-reviewed and professional publications, plus one book chapter. Six of these publications are outputs from two multidisciplinary projects funded by the EPSRC to develop interactive technology to support people living with dementia. The ‘CIRCA’ Project focused on promoting conversation between people with dementia and caregivers, while ‘Living in the Moment’ was funded to develop engaging and meaningful activities for people with dementia to use without the help of a caregiver. These projects have generated a great deal of public and media interest resulting in myself and my colleagues being interviewed by several newspapers and on BBC television and radio news programmes. We have also established a company – CIRCA Connect – to sell these two systems to dementia care services.
A further six of the aforementioned publications arose from my doctoral research looking specifically at spared communication skills in people at very advanced stages of dementia. I worked with my PhD supervisor, Professor Arlene Astell, to develop Adaptive Interaction, a variant of Intensive Interaction to support meaningful communication between caregivers and people with very advanced dementia. This is a nonverbal technique that supports the building of interpersonal connections and relationships using movements, sounds and eye gaze. This work has also generated much interest in the fields of both dementia research and care. I received personal invitations from the editors of the Journal of Dementia Care and the Journal of Counselling and Healthcare to write articles on this research. I have also given invited talks to multidisciplinary audiences in Trinity College, Dublin and The University of St Andrews on this work. This research has also led to an invitation from the editor of the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) website to contribute peer reviewed content to the section on advanced dementia. Furthermore, this work has been practically applied via a training course for care home staff that I co-wrote, delivered and evaluated (see ‘Training’ page). Currently, I am co-supervising a Clinical Psychology trainee on the Salomons training course, who is carrying out her doctoral research into Adaptive Interaction.
In my current post as Fellow in Dementia Care at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews I am involved in developing my own teaching, training and consultancy in dementia care.
Skills and Aims
I am a passionate, committed and compassionate individual who is eager to make a real difference in dementia care. It give me great pride to witness the application of my research findings in real world settings. For example, seeing the CIRCA system being used in care facilities by people with dementia and witnessing dementia care staff members communicating with people with advanced dementia using Adaptive Interaction techniques.
My main career ambition is to improve the lives of people living with dementia, their friends, families and caregivers via translational research. In my experience, I have seen little evidence of potentially life-changing research findings being put into practice in dementia care. I am committed to contributing to a positive change in this area and in doing so, collaborating with all concerned; from people with dementia to policy makers.