2022 graduate Becky Oatley combined her ground-breaking research into women living with dementia with playing topflight netball.
Becky’s PhD in Dementia Studies is all the more remarkable given that for the first two years she was competing professionally in the Superleague for University of Worcester netball franchise, Severn Stars.
“Being part of the University’s Association for Dementia Studies has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “Being able to combine my career in elite sport alongside study was invaluable and it has been exciting to develop opportunities between my own dementia research and the wider university commitment to inclusive sport.”
Becky’s four-year study, exploring women living with dementia’s experiences of sport-related memories, began by fortunate coincidence. In 2017, she was a member of the inaugural Severn Stars team. She was living in Cardiff, commuting to Worcester for training and matches, and working for the Alzheimer’s Society.
“I saw a studentship being advertised looking at sport reminiscence and dementia and couldn’t believe my luck,” said the 37-year-old. “It felt like what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Balancing the PhD with elite sport was a challenge, but one that was hugely enjoyable.”
Becky spoke to women living with dementia and family carers of someone living with dementia about their experiences and memories of sport. She attended sport reminiscence groups hosted by sports clubs and interviewed women in their own homes.
Becky says this is the first study to consider women’s experiences of sport reminiscence. “All previous research has focussed upon men and traditional sports, such as football,” she said. “Yet some women have meaningful connections to sport that can challenge gender and disability-based stereotypes of what it means to be a woman affected by dementia. The topic of sport could offer opportunity for women to uphold a positive sense of identity and feel a sense of belonging that can be of great value in the context of living with dementia.” Findings from Becky’s PhD have been incorporated into some of the University’s teaching.
She is now working as a research associate at the Association, working on projects including looking at Extra Care Housing, physical activity and Meeting Centres, which provide a meet-up for people living with dementia and were originally piloted by the University. She has also been working in practice, supporting people living with dementia in Worcestershire to access services and engage in activities.