A few chance meetings finally led me to VOICENorth...
I took part in a LiveWell project in Gateshead. It was all about healthy eating, keeping active and being social. There was a follow-up meeting at the Campus and it was there that people started asking me "How long have you been in (what sounded like) Voice North?" or "Are you in Voice North?" which led me to say, "No, I haven't heard of it, but please, tell me more!"
After becoming a Voice North member I discovered the connection with Newcastle University and their research into ageing; ageing in a good way and also ageing in a not so good way. I started to get invites to Public Engagement Events where we found out about research taking place at the University. Sometimes I felt as if I was in an episode of Star Trek! There are amazing things going on. I had to drop science at school when I was 14, so there was a gap of over 40 years until I was reintroduced to this ever-changing topic.
I loved everything, it was like going to University for the first time - I found it all absolutely fascinating. I like to go along to talks; they are very good at making me aware of things to look out for. My aim is to keep as healthy for as long as possible.
I have now participated in research into strokes, sleep, exercise, older people's use of technology, dentistry, 3D printing… the list goes on! Sometimes it's just involves completing an online questionnaire or attending a focus group where researchers are keen to have our thoughts. Sessions can last less than an hour, or can involve multiple visits over a few weeks.
I volunteer at the Medical School where I am a ‘patient’ for the 1st and 2nd year students to practice their skills on, not to be diagnosed but to help to build up their confidence in procedures such as taking patient’s blood pressure. It also gives students the opportunity to perfect their techniques at talking to patients in a pleasant manner.
For a Parkinson's research project, I volunteered as a ‘healthy control’ which means that the researchers are comparing my results with someone who has the condition. I remember one occasion at the ‘Gait Lab’ (a large room where you are filmed whilst walking) I had a detailed eye test. After answering lots of questions, the researcher attached sensors to my legs, arms and body to pick up movement. The movement is captured by cameras that record at approximately 20,000 frames per second - I was told that this was similar to Hollywood films, where ‘characters’ are generated by a computer and don't really exist! After that, I walk up and down the Gait Lab, perhaps going over small obstacles, and wearing an ‘eye tracker’, a tiny camera attached to a headset which picks up my eye movement. All the time that this is going on, I am asked to repeat numbers that are being randomly generated by a computer.
I have also participated in several studies on depression, at Academic Psychiatry at the Campus, again as a "Healthy Control". This usually involving memory tests. Sometimes I am fitted with a cap which is covered in sensors recording what my brain is up to during all of this. All very fascinating stuff!
I started participating in research because of health concerns that I have had in the past - thinking that I am here today because of research that was done many years ago. I have been involved in some fairly strange pieces of research. Strange, but perhaps very important in our understanding of disease. I really enjoy participating in research, and I know that many others do as well. I would recommend anyone to find out more about it.