Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dementia, memory and imagination researcher and Associate Professor, Muireann Irish

A WEXFORD native who recently became one of 15 young female science researchers from across the globe to gain UNESCO recognition and receive an International Rising Talent fellowship is on a mission to encourage other young people to follow their dreams in the world of science, as well as in life.

Muireann Irish, a past pupil of Presentation Secondary School, has made significant findings into the nature of dementia, the mind and imagination since beginning her psychology studies at Trinity College.

The positive and motivated Irishwoman is now an Associate Professor at The University of Sydney’s School of Psychology and Brain & Mind Centre, as well as being a wife and mother.

Having received the prestigious recognition for her work on recognizing Alzheimer’s before the first signs appear, Dr. Irish is testament to the fact that success is possible for all and does not have to come at the cost of achieving other personal goals in life also.

A pivotal development for Dr. Irish around the time she began her studies was her grandmother’s worsening Alzheimer’s disease.

“I started doing a clinical neuropsychology course and memory was a bit focus of the course and things just started clicking.

“I remember sitting in a lecture and just thinking ‘this is what I want to do’… then fate intervened and I was offered a scholarship to do my honours dissertation looking at memory changes in Alzheimer’s disease and I think everything just went from there,” she explained.

Fast forward some years later and Dr. Irish appears happy she subsequently made a decision which was to be life-changing and see her put down roots in Sydney.

“I actually really like it,” she said.

“There’s a very strong Irish community here so it’s very easy to find kindred spirits in people who’ve moved across and settled here as well.

“It’s a very innovative sort of driven culture that surrounds the research here.

“There’s a big sort of philosophy of giving people a go, a fair go, so you’ll be given as much responsibility as you want or as many opportunities as you want and if you’re keen and if you’re motivated you can really seize the chances and actually really make a lot of headway even when you’re quite young.

“I think it suited me a lot to be here.

“I was given basically three years of funding to come up with my own research area and benefit from all this amazing infrastructure… that’s every researcher’s dream.”

Along with her colleagues, Dr. Irish is working to explore how spatial representations in the minds of people with dementia connect to some of the functional difficulties which they experience.

For example, she outlined, “if you’re unable to remember the past or imagine the future in your daily life, does it create apathy or depression or does it give rise to a loss of social engagement with others?”

While there are strategies which can be implemented to assist those who have experienced, for example, a stroke, a head injury or brain injury, there are imposing obstacles in the way in terms of dementia.

“What we’re dealing with there,” Dr. Irish said, “is a progressive, neuro-degenerative disease and so it means that pathology constantly advances.

“There’s no way to actually halt the progression as yet so even if some training programmes can have some success in the short term, the benefits don’t persist.

“It’s one of those unfortunate situations where you’re facing a losing battle.”

The recognition recently received by Dr. Irish and other young female researchers, however, will likely inspire more women to join in that battle and help to further advance research in the field yet again.

The Wexford woman is of the opinion, therefore, that such schemes are “really important.”

To help empower women, Dr. Irish believes “we really need to have more female role models across the board, but particularly in science, to show that if you’re passionate… you can make it happen.

“If you are passionate about something and you feel like you have a talent for it, you have to tune out some of the negativity and back yourself.”

Read more in the Wexford Echo.

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By Sarah Bermingham
Contact Newsdesk: 053 9259900

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