Volunteer stories: Sally Harbourne
Sally Harbourne volunteered for the New Therapeutics in Alzheimer's Disease (NTAD) study, which aims to identify biological markers of Alzheimer's disease that can then be used to test experimental treatments for the condition. Here, Sally tells her story of why she wanted to volunteer and her experience of taking part in the study.
'My Mother was a nurse and in her later years she experienced a gradual loss of memory and awareness, although she was never formally diagnosed. She always said it was important to give something back to medical research by donating your organs or your body to help medical students in their training.
Following her advice, I became a blood donor in my student years, but sadly I later developed breast cancer, meaning I am no longer allowed to donate. However, helping with medical research was always in the back of my mind, so when I went for my 65th Birthday "MOT", I asked my GP how I could help in the search for a cure for dementia.
With my GP's assistance, I made contact with the University of Oxford research team who work on the NTAD study. I was briefed thoroughly on what would be required of me and even before my first visit I felt safe and well cared for. Jemma Pitt, who helps run the NTAD study, met me at the door of the Warneford Hospital and introduced the members of the team who would be looking after me.
I was given the choice of a PET scan (a type of brain scan) or a lumbar puncture, a procedure where fluid is taken from your lower back. I opted for a lumbar puncture and was given as much information as I needed to be happy that this procedure would be performed carefully and safely. While many friends said how brave I was to undertake this, I felt they were overreacting as it was very straightforward, and I had no side effects. Plus, the doctor who carried out the procedure could not have been more caring, explaining exactly what was going to happen and how I might feel after.
I then had a different brain scan called a MEG scan. This was an interesting experience, but the team talked me through everything while securing the cap and attaching the sensors – I think I must have looked quite stylish in my cap and wires! After this, I had another type of brain scan called an MRI, followed by tests to assess my mental abilities.
Unfortunately, the NTAD study was happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the researchers kept me well informed, and I felt completely safe and well-briefed in the care of staff who were both professional and with a sense of humour. I had been a little apprehensive on my first visit to the Warneford and was pleased to have my husband with me, but the research team cannot be faulted in their care or how they made me feel at ease.
I do hope the small part I played in the NTAD project will help tackle dementia. I would encourage anyone thinking of giving something back by joining a research project to sign on the dotted line now. You will be doing a great service to medical research and hopefully help make dementia a thing of the past.'