PhD Studentship: Communication between people with dementia and their partners: Understanding and improving conversational interaction

University of Sheffield - Human Communication Sciences

The aims of this PhD project are to analyse the recurrent, co-constructed conversational structures that occur in talk involving people with dementia and their spouses/carers, with the goal of developing conversational partner training materials similar to those available for the partners of people with aphasia (eg., SPPARC, Lock et al. 2001). It is well known that language ability is impaired in dementia (Blair et al 2007, Clark et al. 2009, Forbes-McKay & Venneri 2005, Kemper et al. 2001); there are often long pauses during a search for a word or name; questions are asked several times; topics of conversation are suddenly changed. All of these features may make it difficult to have conversations that seem meaningful and worthwhile, and may contribute to partners feeling frustrated, angry and guilty. Although some research has focussed on the communicative abilities of people with dementia (Ripich & Terrell 1988, Mentis et al. 1995, Perkins et al. 1998, Rousseaux et al. 2010), it has focussed on analysing only the contributions of the person with dementia -- not how the contributions of the conversational partner affect the potential outcomes of the talk. Few studies to date have focused on helping partners of people with dementia understand these changes in conversational ability. Jones (2015) shows, however, the importance of the conversational contributions of other participants for the trajectory of the interaction; that is, not only the achievement of mutual understanding between the parties, but also the difficulty or stress caused for the interactants.

Therefore, this study will analyse conversational interactions involving people with dementia and their partners with the goal of producing conversation-based communication training aids which should help all those affected by dementia to have more meaningful and less stressful conversations. From the outset of the project, the student will have access to conversations between people with memory complaints and their accompanying carers during clinic appointments, collected during a previous National Institute for Health Research funded study. The use of this data means that the student will be able to engage in research relevant to people with dementia and their partners from day one of this project. Whilst working on the previously collected data, the student will obtain the approvals necessary to collect new recordings of conversations involving people with dementia in other settings. Further data collection will be facilitated by the student’s interaction with the Human Communication Science department’s Dementia and Life Story clinic, which has a protocol for research participation. This project will complement studies focussed on improvements in the diagnosis or the neurological basis of dementia by producing concrete advice to help people with dementia live well, by helping their partners communicate more meaningfully with them.

Entry Requirements

Candidates must have a first or upper second class honors degree or significant research experience. A background in qualitative research methods especially conversation or discourse analysis is desirable.

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Northern England