Enrich Blog

Interviewing people with dementia: Practical tips

Guest Blog written by Dr Catherine Quinn, Senior Research Fellow, University of Exeter on Tuesday February 28, 2017

When developing a research study there is lots of information on how to design a study; however, there is less guidance available on how to go about collecting the data and working with participants. This is something I reflected upon whilst developing the training for researchers working on the IDEAL study (Improving the experience of Dementia and Enhancing Active Life; www.IDEALproject.org.uk).

I have conducted research with people with dementia in their own homes and in a care home environment. Both environments can have similar issues which can make research challenging, particularly for those new to research. Here are some practical issues to consider when planning on interviewing people with dementia.

1.    When developing your interview protocol think about the order of your questions, you want to ease the person into the interview. Keep your questions concise so that the person can process what you are asking.

2.    Practice your questions beforehand so that you are familiar with them. Ideally you want a seamless interview and this can be difficult to achieve if you are constantly looking down at your questions. You may want to consider piloting your interview questions.

3.    Timing is important. You need to consider the best time for the interview. You want to arrange the interview for when the person is most alert so you should ask the person or seek advice from their informal carer. If the person is in a care home you can seek advice from the care staff. Be aware that care homes can be very busy during certain times of the day e.g. mealtimes, and ideally you would want to arrange the interview during a quieter period when you can have uninterrupted time with the person.

4.    The interview should be conducted in a non-distracting environment. In care homes you will need to arrange for the person to be in quiet room where you are not going to be disturbed. If you are interviewing the person in his/her home it would be best if the carer leaves the room, if the carer stays in the room the person may be more reluctant to disclose personal information or feelings. Try to explain to the carer why you would prefer to speak to the person one-to-one and that you are interested in the person’s subjective experiences.

5.    Building rapport is important as you want the person to feel comfortable talking to you. Allow for extra time before the start of the interview so you have time to chat with the person. Also make time to speak to carers (if they are present) or care staff, make sure they know why you are there.

6.    When you are conducting the interview try to sit facing the person and maintain eye contact. Allow him/her plenty of time to answer your questions. If the person looks confused check she/he has heard you properly and try re-phrasing the question.

7.    Pay attention to body language. Look out for any signs that the person is becoming distressed or tired, if she/he is, take a break or end the interview arrange to come back another time.

8.    It is important that interviews end on a positive note. Finishing the interview with a brief, more social chat can help with this.

Dr Catherine Quinn is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and a co-investigator on the IDEAL study. Catherine has written about her experiences of conducting interviews with people with dementia and their informal carers: http://methods.sagepub.com/case/conducting-interviews-people-with-dementia-their-caregivers

Written by Dr Catherine Quinn, Senior Research Fellow, University of Exeter on Tuesday February 28, 2017

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