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The BSG Outstanding Achievement Award 2018

Professor Murna Downs


Murna Downs, Professor of Dementia Studies was nominated for the BSG Outstanding Achievement Award as a result of her work over the past 30 years concerning the lives of older people with dementia and the policy and practice surrounding them.  Murna is a psychologist, who studied in both Dublin and Vermont, gaining her PhD in 1992 concerning changing restrictive practice in a nursing home setting for staff and resident behaviour. Following a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Mental Health and Ageing at Pennsylvania State University, Murna became Research Manager and then Director of the Centre for Social Research on Dementia at the University of Stirling (1994 -2000).  She then moved to Bradford University where she is Head of the School of Dementia Studies (formerly the Bradford Dementia Group), a leading centre of excellence in research, education, training and consultancy in dementia care.

Murna’s research interests focus on improving quality of life and quality of care for people with dementia and their families; the experience of living with dementia; mixed methods approaches to research, and the effectiveness of training and education.  She is currently concerned with developing and testing interventions to improve care in care homes through research funded by the National Institute for Health Research to consider improving the health care of residents.  She is also involved in work alongside Dr. Claire Surr at the University of Bradford to test the effectiveness of Dementia Care Mapping (DCM) in enabling person-centred care ( DCM - originally developed by eminent psychologist Professor Tom Kitwood during the 1980s). Since the mid-1990s Murna and colleagues have undertaken research through a wide range of funders from the Scottish Office Home and Health Department to District and Local Councils, from ESRC to Alzheimer’s Disease Society to MRC and also the National Institute of Health Research.  From 2018 -2023 Murna with other colleagues are funded by the Alzheimer’s Society for approximately £2m to research ‘New Interventions for independence in Dementia’.  

To disseminate this body of work Murna has authored and co-authored 100 publications including co-authored books, refereed journal articles, book chapters and review.  Her books include a co-edited collection of BSG conference papers, The Futures of Old Age, 2006.  She is Book Series Editor for the Bradford Dementia Group and Jessica Kingsley Good Practice Guides in dementia Care as well as being Associate Editor of Dementia, the International Journal of Social Research and Practice and a member of the Editorial Advisory Boards for the Journal of Ageing and Mental Health and the Journal of Dementia Care.

She offers on-going support to other researchers by being part of Advisory Panels for other projects.  Since 2015, she has Chaired the NIHR Programme Steering Group for the Programme Grant Supporting excellence in end of life care in dementia and from 2017 onwards she has been a member of the Trial Oversight Committee for this group.  With this expertise Murna has been a part of Government Expert Reference groups regarding the National Dementia Strategy from 2009 to 2014 and since then a part of the Health Education England – Dementia Workforce Advisory Group.  She has also had a central role in both national and international Strategic and Advisory Panels for Research. In 2014 she was invited by the Secretary of State for Health to attend the Global Dementia Legacy event hosted by the Department of Health. Currently, in the UK currently she is part of the Alzheimer’s Society (UK) Research Strategy Council, while she is also a member of the European research network on interventions for early dementia (INTERDEM). Her work has also led to consultancies both within the USA and Ireland for example in 2017, she was Visiting Professor in Pennsylvania State University and from 2016-18 has been involved in the Evaluation of the National Dementia Strategy for Health Service Executive (Ireland).

Murna is an active teacher involved in curriculum development (2000-2015) for the University of Bradford awards: BSC (Hons) Dementia Studies, by distance learning; MSc Dementia Care; MSc dementia Studies, by distance learning, incorporating specialist pathway.  In addition, she has taught psychology and abnormal psychology, adult development, research methods.  She co-directs the University’s Alzheimer’s Society funded Doctoral Training Centre on dementia care and services research, ‘Transitions in Dementia Care’.  She currently supervises three full-time and part-time PhD students engaged in research concerning the care of frail elderly; end of life care, and improving quality of life for people living in care homes.

Murna is a member of the British Society of Gerontology and a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America. Her record speaks clearly as to why she is the worthy winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award.

Alan Walker