My number one fear about doing a memory research project in Ireland was not being able to find enough participants (difficult accents came in a close second). In the US, we benefit from undergraduate students who are required to participate in experiments for class credit, or we pay members of the community to participate. In Ireland, however, the rules of compensating participants are a lot stricter and normally only involve travel vouchers. Since I limited the participant pool to individuals over 50 years old for my study, I was even more worried about recruitment. I didn’t have very many friends aged over 50 in Ireland, and I wasn’t sure where these individuals spent their time, let alone if they’d be willing to donate their time for science.
One of the advertisement posters I made happened to be placed at a community center where a large number of people aged over 50 go to play bridge every week. I’d like to personally thank this Bridge Club for single-handedly making up about half of my participant pool. Not to mention, these are competitive individuals that view the memory task as a challenge and provide really great data. In the US, if you pay participants, sometimes they don’t care and don’t even try as long as they get their money. I’ve been truly humbled by the number of individuals that take 3 hours out of their day, come to the UCC Psychology Building, let me put electrodes all over their scalps, and complete an annoying memory task all for free.
It makes me that much more determined to make sure that something comes of the data they have selflessly provided. It’s also heartening to realize the reasons many of these individuals became interested in the project in the first place. Most people fit into three groups: 1) someone they are close to has suffered from dementia; 2) they want to contribute to research in the hope that they will be able to retain their memories; 3) they are genuinely curious about their memory. Some people fit into all three categories, but no matter what category they fit in, we get to have some real, passionate conversations over the course of the study. It takes about 40 minutes to prepare someone for EEG recordings, so there’s plenty of time to have uncomfortable small talk or a genuine conversation. Many of my most cherished memories of Ireland come from interacting with participants, and their kind words constantly remind me how important dementia research is. I heartily agree with a quote by Tia Walker: “To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors”.
So, this is really a thank you to all of the participants this year that, not only participated in my study, but made sure I also took care of myself. I’ve never had so many people trying to make sure I ate, drank, slept, and went for an appropriate number of pints per week. Also, thank you to the cohort of participants who have been praying for me to find an Irish husband. No takers yet, but I’m extremely grateful for all of the well-wishes and tremendous kindness I’ve experienced in this country.