Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Researcher Profile: Andrew Allen

This profile originally appeared on the website of the Dementia Research Network Ireland, who gave me the opportunity to talk about my new research role at the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability.

(Re-printed with permission).

This month's researcher in focus is Dr Andrew P. Allen, who works with the Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability at Trinity College Dublin.

What is your area of research?

I have recently started working with Trinity Centre for Ageing and Intellectual Disability. For over a decade, they have been running the Intellectual Disability Supplement to the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (IDS-TILDA: idstilda.tcd.ie). This is generating a fantastic dataset from a nationally representative cohort of people with intellectual disability (ID) aged 40+.

I am particularly interested in dementia in people with ID. This population have a higher prevalence of dementia, and the onset happens at a younger age, but detection of dementia in this cohort is quite different from the general population, and this can be challenging for clinicians. Appropriate end-of-life care for people with ID, another issue that is central to dementia, remains a challenge; I’m also currently working with my colleagues on book chapters that aim to provide a better understanding of the topic.

Right now, with the current COVID-19 crisis, we are developing resources for people with ID, their families and support staff (e.g. easy read materials, webinars for support staff). To find out more, see the following link: https://www.tcd.ie/tcaid/about/covid19.php

What sparked your interest in this area?

I have been interested in cognition for ages, but I’ve become increasingly involved in the whole area of ageing and cognition in the last few years. I have always believed that ageing is an intrinsically interesting topic, but I think the research zeitgeist has also generated a lot of energy around exploring the lives of older adults. So, when the opportunity arose with IDS-TILDA to get involved with research in an underexplored older population, I jumped at it. 

What stage are you at in your career and are there any achievements you are particularly proud of?

I have worked in various research roles since finishing my PhD about seven years ago. I’m approaching what a lot of funding agencies would call “mid-career” - time can creep up on you.

In terms of recent output, I was happy to see a paper being published about research on family dementia caregivers at University College Cork and St. Finbarr’s Hospital. The findings draw attention to the importance of safety issues as a cause of burden for family caregivers of people with dementia. This was a very satisfying collaboration with the clinical team at the memory clinic and old age psychiatry clinic as well (https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article-abstract/49/1/52/5637595).

What impact would you like your research to have?

I think that most researchers involved in ageing are hoping to maintain or improve people’s quality of life as they get older. But not everyone ages in the same way and, as researchers, we have a role to play in creating a better understanding of the diversity that exists in our older populations so that policy and practice can adapt accordingly.

Who has helped or inspired you in your area of research?

In my experience, the teams that I’ve worked with are very collegial, and many team-mates have helped me in some way (I hope I’ve helped them too). I’ve taken a strong interest in psychology since the age of fourteen, so there have been a lot of people who have inspired me. In the last couple of years, Richard Roche has been a particular inspiration with his ability to pull together collaborators from a wealth of disciplines. More recently, I think the scale and the staying power of IDS-TILDA is really impressive, especially how they manage to retain so many participants with very little drop-out. And with such a great dataset, every day raises new questions.

Related posts
Dementia in people with intellectual disabilities

If you like this post, follow me on Twitter: @ArchivePsych