INTERDEM Academy – Spotlight on … Sarah Janus

Who are you and what defines you as a researcher?

My research drive is fueled by the idea that I can improve dementia care. My mum was care dependent for a long-time with an acquired brain injury. Even though this was not dementia, she, but also us as a family, experienced the struggles with entering institutionalized care and how you lose your independence. With my research I want to create a positive impact in clinical practice and improve the lives of persons with dementia and their families using personalized care through (technological) innovations. I currently work as a senior researcher at the department of Elderly Care at the University Medical Centre in Groningen. The perspective of the person with dementia is a central point of my research. Therefore, I am glad that the department is connected to the Elderly Care Network  – UMCG in which 20 nursing home organizations work together on research projects. Talking directly to residents, resident representatives’, family members and staff opens up new perspectives into my research and motivates me on a daily basis by highlighting the impact of my work. Working in multi-disciplinary, inter-sectorial, international teams and learning from various stakeholders, is very interesting and enjoyable to me.

What are you currently working on? (and how/why did you get into this job/field?)

Music is central to all our lives, we listen to songs every day. Whether we are happy or sad, music has a place in all our lives. My current research takes this universal love of music and explores it as a therapy for people living with dementia. I am a workpackage leader of a multinational study that looks into the effect of music therapy on the severity of depressive symptoms, well-being and quality of life in people with dementia living in a nursing home. Other interesting projects I am involved in explore the use of new technologies in dementia care, e.g. to raise awareness regarding the acoustic environment in nursing home or to prevent challenging behaviors with monitoring technologies.

What are your future ambitions? (can be work-related but also personal)

For my research I have been working with nursing staff for several years now and staff shortages are becoming more and more noticeable. I would like to have a better understanding of how I can support nursing home staff in their work. Therefore, I would like to take a sabbatical to visit nursing homes all over Europe to talk with staff about their experiences and why they care for residents with dementia. I would like to contribute to the dialogue between nursing staff from various organizations but also different countries. My aim would be to create more public awareness about the work in the homes to highlight the importance and value of nursing staff!

Memorable/fun INTERDEM Academy moment to share? Or memorable/fun work anecdote?

I think one of the most memorable times of my life has been my internship in South Africa.  For three months I lived in a local nursing home together with the residents, ate dinner in the dining hall and enjoyed a glass of wine during the Friday afternoon drinks with the residents. The most memorable moment however was the time when a group of monkeys approached the home. At first I thought that the residents were panicking before I realized that they were just protecting their food and other belongings by angrily screaming at the monkeys and waving around their arms.