The University of Sydney
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Leslie Rich Scholarship 2015 Awardee

Ms Claire O’Connor

The 2015 recipient of the The Leslie Rich Scholarship for Dementia Research is Ms Claire O’Connor, a doctoral candidate, in Faculty of Health Sciences, Aging Work & Health Research Unit for a project entitled, Understanding behaviour and function in frontotemporal dementia: developing better assessments and intervention approaches. Her supervisor is Professor Lindy Clemson.

Prior to commencing her doctoral studies, Ms O’Connor completed a Bachelor of Medical Science Degree at UWS followed by a Master of Occupational Therapy at the University of Sydney. She has produced an extensive number of publications in her area of interest and has presented on these topics at many conferences.

With regard to the awarded project she has written

“Research into dementia primarily focuses on Alzheimer’s disease, with much less focus on other subtypes such as frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which is the second most common cause of young-onset dementia. FTD is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder comprised of three main clinical variants: behavioural variant primarily associated with progressive changes in personality and social function, and two language variants including progressive non-fluent aphasia and semantic dementia. Within FTD research, there are gaps in the literature about longitudinal relationships between function and behaviour, and there is a distinct lack of knowledge about the severe-advanced stages of the disease. Despite the current lack of effective pharmacological interventions for FTD, there is a paucity of rigorous research into potential non-pharmacological interventions.

This project will provide opportunities for further investigation into longitudinal relationships between function and behaviour in FTD; development of a tool to measure functional status of people in the severe-advanced stages of FTD; and, to investigate the potential benefit of the Tailored Activities Program (TAP), a community-based occupational therapy intervention, within an FTD cohort, with long lasting effect. TAP data will be collected as part of the larger TAP randomised controlled trial through the University of Sydney.

Outcomes from this research have the potential to contribute to the knowledge base and inform practice in FTD. The results from this study will contribute to development of an occupational therapy framework for working with FTD cohorts. Development of a more focused assessment tool to discriminate functional levels within stages of progression will be useful within research contexts, and also support practice through diagnosis and development of more focused interventions. Conducting a feasibility study for use of TAP within FTD cohorts is a novel approach which will inform the development of more targeted non-pharmacological interventions in FTD in the future.”

Claire plans to use the scholarship to help meet costs associated with carrying out her research on a day to day basis as well as to attend the 10th International Conference on Frontotemporal Dementias (FTD) in Munich, Germany in August 2016 where she will make a presentation. In addition she will also visit her original supervisor who has relocated to the UK since Claire began her doctoral studies. “This visit” Claire says, “ will be an invaluable experience for me to consolidate, collaborate and enhance the research outcomes of my research project. Further to this, the UK visit would enable vital face-to-face supervision in the final year of my PhD project with my original supervisor, to ensure the integration of fundamental FTD-specific information to my project.”