Introducing Ms Anna Volkmer

What primarily developed your interest in researching Alzheimer’s?

My clinical experience of working with people with dementia was my primary motivation for embarking on a research career. Having worked with people with dementia for more than 15 years now I find that there are many barriers to services to support people to live well with dementia. I found that across both health care professional groups and the general public people frequently did not know about speech and language therapy and what they could offer. I was noticing however, that we were nevertheless seeing more people with dementia on our caseloads. Yet the research evidence for the type of interventions we could provide was limited. I believe that social approaches in interventions- such as communication training- can help people live at home with their families, independently for longer. This is what really motivated me to embark on a research career- to demonstrate this and consequently improve future access to and delivery of speech and language therapy to this group of people.

Currently, what is the key focus of your research?

I have recently developed and refined a communication training program called “Better Conversations with Primary Progressive Aphasia”. This is a communication training program designed to be delivered by speech and language therapists to people with language led dementias (associated with Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia) and their family members or daily communication partners. The aim of the intervention is to reduce barriers to having a conversation and increase behaviours that facilitate conversation. I am currently in the middle of a randomised controlled pilot study, where we are piloting the intervention across 6 (soon to be 12) NHS sites.

What has been the most surprising finding during your research career?

The amount of work I have had to do as a PhD student, filling in paper work to get the study set up in an NHS setting. I am not sure there are many small disciplines doing research in the NHS and it is very tricky for us.

When people learn you are involved in researching Alzheimer’s, what is the main question they ask?

People both with and without a clinical background often ask me what speech and language therapy can possibly do for people with dementia!

In your opinion, how important is collaboration and integrating multiple research strategies to unravel the complexities of Alzheimer’s?

I think that collaboration is essential. Whilst we are unable to currently cure dementia, people with dementia and their families wish to lead full and fulfilling lives, thus there must be an investment in research that can maximise this.

How close do you feel we are towards making a key breakthrough in slowing the progression of, preventing, or even curing Alzheimer’s? And what is the most important thing to fast track us to this point?

I feel we are developing a bigger repertoire of interventions that can slow the progression of dementia – across both pharmacological and behavioural interventions. I feel that one of the most important factors is the broader health of the population as we age that will help reduce risks of getting dementia. I am not sure there is a fast track- but perhaps keeping an open mind about what will work best.

Tell us something about yourself that keeps you motivated and that might surprise us

Every time a patient/participant/family member says thank you. It makes it all worth it.

And finally … is there a question that you’ve always wished someone would ask about your research, but never has?

I always wish someone would ask me “Can we do more projects like this?”

Ms Anna Volkmer is a Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London. She is a highly specialised speech and language clinician who is passionate about working with people with dementia and  primary progressive aphasia (PPA). Her current research is in developing and refining a communication training intervention for people with PPA and their partners called, “Better Conversations with Primary Progressive Aphasia”. The intervention has been developed over three stages that included a UK wide survey of current clinical practice amongst Speech and Language Therapists, a systematic review of the research literature on functional interventions, focus groups with people with PPA and their families to guide the refinement of the intervention and a randomised controlled pilot study across six National Health Service (NHS) sites.

Find out more about Anna’s research and clinical work by:

  • Visiting her personal blog and the NIHR blog, for which Anna is a regular contributor
  • Following her on Twitter: @volkmer_anna.

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