“Behavioural problems are the key issues for people with dementia and for carers, and we have to focus on how we can improve the situation for them. I am also interested in the plasticity of the brain and how we can collaborate in order to improve the social function of people with dementia.”

“What we have found so far is that each approach should be person-centred and not standardized and the hopeful thing for governments is that psychosocial interventions prove to be cost-effective if they succeed in being effective.”

What area of research gets you particularly excited?
Dementia research has been getting me excited for many years because it is about solving the secrets of life, and in particular the secrets of the brain. Because there are so many disciplines involved in dementia research, I would be fascinated to know what would happen if we put all our knowledge together, and really try to address the full picture and full puzzle of dementia. I am very hopeful that something new will come up soon.

What do you think is the most pressing issue in this area of research?
The most pressing problem is the behavioural problems of people with dementia. These problems are very annoying for the people themselves, and for the families and care givers and it is very hard to deal with it. I think research has to do a better job at trying to deal with these problems and this also endangers the social health of people with dementia. I would like to create a new theme within JPND of “social health” in dementia.

What would be your advice for early career researchers?
It is very important for researchers to be curious. Although you have to follow the research protocols and guidelines, be curious, and follow your curiosity to new questions. It can be hard and your bright ideas will be rejected, but just continue to think harder. As a woman at a relatively high level in research, “keep going for it” is my main advice. I had to struggle to come into this male-dominated world of research – I am the only woman in the Scientific Advisory Board for example. But you can do it, and when you are in, it is more fun than trouble, but take your chances and go for it!

How can health and social care research be better supported in JPND?
The obvious answer is by funding research proposals and also by providing guidance in the research agenda, so that researchers know where to focus, and they don’t come up with haphazard initiatives but initiatives embedded in a stream of correlated research. For instance, if you take social health, we can build on existing theoretical knowledge in social health.

What is the main benefit of JPND for patients and patient organisations?
Research is relevant for patients as they are the first to benefit from it. Some research is for today’s patient and much research is for the patient of tomorrow but nonetheless, we are doing it for the patients themselves. We do have good connections with patient organisations in Europe and in the national countries. And they are in some ways involved in JPND for research initiatives.

What impact do you think JPND is having?
We should not underestimate JPND’s influence. It is not only about the European Research Agenda, which is tremendously important, but also that all disciplines are involved. We have to take the next step to integrate it at the national level, as it also influences the national research agendas. On a global scale, there is not a comparable initiative. I think JPND is very, very important.

Click here to read Myrra Vernooij-Dassen’s biography.