Profile – Robyn Dowlen, Music In Mind PhD Student

Posted on December 1, 2015

We recently welcomed Robyn Dowlen to the Camerata team.  Robyn is a PhD student working to develop an ‘in the moment’ multisensory assessment tool to evaluate the impact of music on individuals living with dementia, and will involve working on Manchester Camerata’s ‘Music in Mind’ project. This world first for research is part of Camerata’s partnership with the University of Manchester and Lancaster University.

Robyn DowlenRobyn’s background is in psychology, having completed a degree in psychology at Cardiff University and Masters in Research (MRes) at the University of Manchester. During her undergraduate degree Robyn undertook her placement as a Research Assistant at the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Birmingham.  In this role she was involved in projects researching social anxiety, and executive functions in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders and was able to see the direct impact research findings could have on these individuals.

Robyn is also a Dementia Friends Champion, delivering information sessions to groups of individuals in a wide range of settings to help break the stigma associated with dementia. She is also an accomplished singer and a reasonable violinist.

Robyn’s PhD 

Robyn’s PhD is titled ‘Music Matters’: Developing an ‘in the moment’ multi-sensory music assessment tool for dementia through a participatory design.

Today, there is an increased interest in using non-pharmacological treatments in order to target behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia such as aggression, wandering and repetitive questioning. This is due to the fact that the use of antipsychotics for treating these symptoms results in severe side effects, especially in older populations. Music has been proposed as a means of providing relief from these symptoms, and although there has been research exploring the impact of music on people living with dementia, much is of poor methodological quality.

A significant proportion of the research looks at comparing questionnaire measures at baseline, before the music intervention, then at follow up, after the music intervention. However, recently it has been proposed that it would be more useful to explore the ‘in the moment’ experiences of people with dementia, rather than relying on these before and after measures. Robyn’s PhD will aim to develop a tool that can measure the experiences of people with dementia ‘in the moment’ when they are engaged with music.

Robyn’s research will be highly influenced by the people with dementia themselves, as well as staff carers, family members, musicians and music therapists. Robyn’s PhD will use a method known as Participatory Action Research. This research methods enables the people who are taking part in the research to work collaboratively to explore an issue, in this case the development of a tool for the assessment of music. By talking to people with dementia, their family members, and care staff she will be able to learn about how they experience music and the impact it has on them in that moment.