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“What is good for your heart is good for your brain”: A mixed methods study on reducing dementia risk in UK Primary Care

Project Description

The Research Department of Primary Care & Population Health at University College London (UCL) is seeking an outstanding, highly motivated and enthusiastic candidate for this PhD studentship. We are seeking to attract applications from quantitative social scientists, particularly with a background in epidemiology, demography or medical statistics who are interested in extending their research skills.
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 Kate Walters, Professor Claudia Cooper and Professor Irene Petersen.
This is an exciting opportunity to undertake a PhD jointly funded by the ESRC UBEL DTP and NIHR. Through this PhD the student will gain valuable research skills and understanding of different methodologies, including the analysis of ‘big data’ and qualitative methods.


Established risk factors for Cardio-Vascular Disease (CVD) and dementia overlap considerably. ‘Best practice’ CVD risk management in primary care may therefore already be addressing many modifiable risk factors for dementia. However, several studies have shown that compared with younger people, older people receive less of some treatments that may decrease dementia risk, including depression and secondary prevention after a stroke. We do not know whether this applies in high risk populations. It may be that General Practitioners (GPs) translate the ‘good for your heart, good for your brain’ message into more assertive management of risk factors in this population. Furthermore we know little of how optimisation of risk factor management in a high risk dementia population can be incorporated into routine clinical practice, in an era when health systems are facing increasing demands from an ageing population with limited resources.

In this PhD, the student will compare the NHS treatments that people who are at higher and lower dementia risk currently receive that might reduce their risk of developing dementia. They will further explore how this could be optimised in UK Primary Care.

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.
This PhD includes Advanced Quantitative Methods (AQM) and therefore overseas applicants are eligible.

Main research questions

1. To what extent do people presenting to their GP who (i) have and have not reported memory concerns, and (ii) are at high and low risk of dementia, currently receive active dementia preventative care? Are there social inequities in this?
2. What are the facilitators and barriers to older primary care patients with memory concerns and primary care physicians engaging in active dementia prevention?
Proposed research plan:

Study 1: Quantitative (secondary analysis of healthcare data)
The student will use data from THIN which is a primary care database of 14 million anonymised patients’ records, collected from over 500 participating practices that are broadly representative of UK practices. The student will examine socioeconomic, ethnic and gender differences in patients aged 60+ in terms of preventative health care and risk of dementia.

Study 2: Qualitative
The student will explore barriers and facilitators to engaging with dementia prevention strategies; including smoking cessation/alcohol reduction, managing cardiovascular risk, increasing regular activity levels and addressing depression/social isolation. They will conduct semi-structured qualitative interviews with people with memory concerns/at high risk of dementia and/or primary care clinicians.

The student will be based mainly in the Research Department of Primary Care & Population Health, Royal Free Campus, UCL where academic supervision and broader skills training and career development support will be provided. This will include training in both advanced quantitative and qualitative methods as applicable.

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 quantitative social science or other appropriate 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 would be desirable.

Further Details

If you have any queries about this studentship, please contact Professor Kate Walters or Professor Irene Petersen in the Department of Primary Care & Population Health or Professor Claudia Cooper in the Division of Psychiatry.

Further details about the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care are available here: and the UCL Division of Psychiatry here:

Application Information

Application via CV and a supporting statement outlining your key research skills and why you are interested in this PhD sent to .
Applications close on 5pm on the closing day.
Interviews to be held Wednesday 13 March, am.

Funding Notes

The full-time PhD studentship is funded for three years from October 2019 to cover University fees £5,210 per annum, maintenance stipend £17,280 per annum and access to Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) funding.
This PhD includes Advanced Quantitative Methods (AQM) and therefore overseas applicants are eligible.

How good is research at University College London in Public Health, Health Services and Primary Care?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 159.75

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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