To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science and International Women's Day, we caught up with Dr Mukadam to ask her about her research, her advice for women who want to follow a career in scientific research and her goals for the future.
Can you tell us about your interest in the field of dementia and why you think this is an important area to study?
Dementia has an enormous impact on the person living with it, as well as their family and friends and society as a whole. It is a complex syndrome with no cure despite many decades of research. I’m interested in dementia because older people are often overlooked in society and I am keen to help support people with dementia and improve their lives in any way possible.
Your recent research is focused on using inter-ethnic epidemiology to find new ways of preventing and treating dementia. What impact do you hope your research will have?
At the very least my research will have filled an enormous gap in the dementia literature, which is the impact of genetic and environmental risk factors in diverse ethnic groups. So much of what we know about dementia comes from studies in predominantly white people in relatively affluent settings so it is important to study more diverse groups. I also hope that by studying dementia in diverse groups, we can gain a better understanding of how and why dementia develops in some people and not others and this could lead to better understanding of disease mechanisms and even potentially new treatments in the future.
Can you paint a picture of just how big of a problem dementia is for the UK and how dementia rates differ between different cultural/racial groups?
There are currently over 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and with an ageing population this is set to rise to 1.3 million by 2030. Dementia currently costs the UK economy £34.7 billion per year, predicted to rise to over £94 billion by 2040. Dementia research is underfunded, receiving around a sixth of the research funding allocated to cancer. For every £10 spent on burden of the disease, cancer research received £1.08 investment compared to just £0.08 for dementia research.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia suggested that the current estimate of nearly 25,000 people with dementia from minority ethnic communities in England and Wales will grow to nearly 50,000 by 2026 and over 172,000 people by 2051. This is nearly a seven-fold increase in 40 years compared to just over a two-fold increase in the numbers of people with dementia across the whole UK population in the same time period.
People from minority ethnic groups have a higher frequency of dementia risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes so are likely at greater risk of getting dementia. They are also diagnosed at a younger age but tend to get a diagnosis at a later stage in their illness. We know relatively little about rates in different ethnic groups which is what I am hoping to look at in my research.
Research shows coronavirus and lockdown is negatively impacting people’s mental health. Can you share your perspective on how it may be affecting people with dementia and their carers?
Serious consequences of Covid-19 are more common with increasing age and with comorbid health conditions which means people with dementia are particularly vulnerable yet the nature of their cognitive impairment means people with dementia are often reliant on others for activities of daily living.
People with dementia may not understand why they cannot see family or why people who come to see them are wearing masks. Reduction in social contact has been necessary to try and reduce spread of the coronavirus but this has been particularly distressing for people with dementia, especially those in care homes. Hopefully the vaccination programme will help ease restrictions for this vulnerable group of people and can help them get the family support and contact that is so important for their wellbeing.
We have all been working from home for a while now. What tips can you share on improving your mental health during lockdown particularly to those with dementia and their carers?
I think having a routine helps and aiming for some sort of physical activity every day. Being a carer is demanding and it’s important to try and make some time for doing things you enjoy.
You have taken on the role of Deputy Lead for REED (Race Equity and Ethnic Diversity) working group for the DoP. Can you tell us why you decided to take on that role and what you aim to achieve?
My research has always been focused on ethnic inequalities in dementia diagnosis and care and as I have advanced in my career I have come to realise how many inequalities exist within our society, including in academic institutions. I am passionate about tackling these inequalities, which is why I have taken on this role.
I hope as a group we can strive for equity and inclusion at all levels within our division through finding ways to ensure fairer recruitment and promotion, improving race/racism training and ensuring sufficient support and resources are available for students and staff from BAME backgrounds.
What specific advice do you have for young women – particularly those from BAME backgrounds who are interesting in following a career in science?
I find my career extremely rewarding. It’s important to realise that everyone needs support and nobody succeeds on their own so find good sources of support and take time to enjoy life outside academia too.
Do you have any skills or talents that most people don’t know about?
I am very good at writing backwards. Not a useful skill but fun!
Who is someone you admire, and why?
Professor Lisa Barnes and Professor Jennifer Manly are two professors who have accomplished so much in understanding cognitive aging in diverse ethnic groups so I am a huge admirer of their work and how they have advanced this field during their careers. It’s something I aspire towards.
What’s a goal you have for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year?
I’d like to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. Charity funding has been severely affected by the pandemic and it would be nice to be able to help in some way, especially for funders supporting dementia research.