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How does cognitive impairment reconfigure active ageing policies and practices?

Project Description

The Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL) is seeking an outstanding, highly motivated and enthusiastic candidate for this PhD studentship. We are particularly seeking to attract applications from social scientists particularly with a background in sociology and psychology The student will be embedded within the APPLE-Tree programme: Active Prevention in People at risk of dementia: Lifestyle, bEhaviour change and Technology to REducE cognitive and functional decline ESRC/NIHR funded programme grant, which is led by Professor Claudia Cooper. The PhD will be supervised by Professor Paul Higgs and Dr Penny Rapaport

The full-time PhD studentship is funded for three years from October 2019 to cover University fees £x per annum, maintenance stipend and access to Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) funding

This is an exciting opportunity to undertake a PhD jointly funded by the ESRC UBEL DTP and NIHR.


The student will extend and apply the idea of limited but limitless ageing. This concept, developed by a Danish anthropologist, posits that physical, mental and cognitive limitations reconfigure policies and practices of active ageing. Active ageing describes the maintenance of positive subjective well-being, good physical, social and mental health and continued social engagement in later life. The construct of active ageing is built upon assumptions of “limitless” – physical, mental and cognitive capabilities based upon choice. Increasingly, health and social care system are structured around enablement – with care recipients expected and positioned to strive actively for recovery. Our active dementia prevention model will seek to facilitate “active ageing” in people who are limited by cognitive and other impairments. The student will explore how sociological thinking about the policies and practices might be reconfigured to be more inclusive of the half of the older population who live with some cognitive impairment. They will ask how “limited ageing” – ageing with long term conditions – can engage with contemporary expectations of agency.

The overview of the research questions and plan outlined below can be tailored to the specific research interests and experiences of the successful candidate in collaboration with the research supervisors.
Main research questions
1. How can active ageing coexist with cognitive, physical and mental health limitations in people at risk of dementia?
2. How do these limitations reconfigure active ageing associated policies and practices?
Specific research plan:

Work package 1, conceptual, policy and practice review:
The student will undertake a conceptual review of theoretical approaches to how older people, including vulnerable groups, experience active ageing and view dementia and memory loss in this context. In a supplementary review, they will map policies associated with active ageing in England, to include NHS evidence and National policy databases.

Work package 2: an integrated ethnographic approach:
The student will respond to research question one (above) using participant observations and in-depth interviews. They will recruit older people with memory concerns and professionals from participating third sector, NHS and statutory organisations. They will discuss with these APPLE-Tree partner organisations, opportunities for observing discussions between older people with memory concerns and staff, about wellbeing and lifestyle changes. They will explore how people communicate, understand and situate dementia prevention advice. Observations will seek to understand in depth how health promotion discourses apply in these settings over 12-15 months. Based on observations the student will recruit people with memory concerns and stakeholders for 8-10 in-depth, qualitative interviews to triangulate their findings.

The student will be based mainly in UCL Division of Psychiatry, where academic supervision and broader skills training and career development support will be provided.

Application via CV and cover letter to be sent to , no later than 5pm on the closing day.

Key Requirements

Master’s qualification (or to have completed their Master’s by September 2019) in an appropriate discipline or a 2:1 or equivalent in a first degree in a social science discipline. All applicants are required to have excellent written and verbal communication skills. They should also be willing to work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary and multi-professional teams. A research interest in ageing, dementia or long term conditions, as well as a strong interest in social science research and qualitative methods would be desirable.

Further Details

If you have any queries about this studentship, please contact Dr Penny Rapaport, Professor Paul Higgs or Professor Claudia Cooper in UCL Division of Psychiatry at / /

Further details about the UCL Division of Psychiatry are available here: https://ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry

Funding Notes

University fees (2019/20: £5,210*), maintenance stipend (2019/20: £17,280*)

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