University of Exeter funding: Non-pharmacological interventions

Non-pharmacological interventions for dementia behaviours: developing and evaluating a ‘living’ evidence and gap map, Institute of Health Research – PhD (Funded) Ref: 3600

About the award


Associate Professor Jo Thompson Coon, University of Exeter
Dr Dylan Kneale, EPPI-Centre, University College London
Dr Noreen Orr, University of Exeter
Morwenna Rogers, University of Exeter

Dementia currently affects around 650,000 people across the UK. Furthermore, 24.6 million people in the UK (38% of the population) know a family member or close friend living with dementia. The current financial cost of dementia in the UK is £26 billion/year including informal, social and healthcare costs.   With no effective medications to cure or modify the underlying disease processes, managing the behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, often with non-pharmacological interventions, has become a focus of dementia care.   Numerous reports in the dementia field have highlighted a persistent gap between currently provided dementia care and what, based on research evidence, should be provided to improve outcomes. However, almost 100,000 dementia-related research articles were indexed in MEDLINE (the main biomedical bibliographic database) in the last decade presenting an overwhelming task for consumers wishing to make evidence based decisions.

Evidence and gap maps are an emerging state-of-the-art tool used to present selected key characteristics of an entire evidence base in useful, accessible and visually engaging formats.   It is clear that for evidence maps to be useful the information they contain needs to be easy to access and regularly updated.

This studentship involves developing new methods to ensure that evidence influences decision-making for one of the most pressing challenges resulting from an ageing population. This PhD will address two key research questions:

  •  How can we best visualize the evidence (and gaps in the evidence) on the effectiveness and acceptability of non-pharmacological interventions for dementia to enable clinicians, policy makers, commissioners and families to use it effectively?
  •  How can we best maintain the currency of content in an evidence and gap map of the effectiveness and acceptability of non-pharmacological interventions for dementia?

The student will use established systematic review methods to identify, appraise and summarise the body of evidence and will explore, develop and implement methods to identify gaps, visualise the evidence for different audiences and semi-automate the update of the evidence within the maps. There will also be opportunity to hone in on part of the map to examine an evidence gap identified through the map using complex synthesis methods.

The successful candidate will not only be part of the University of Exeter and NIHR CLAHRC South West Peninsula communities but will become a member of the NIHR Academy. They will have access to supervision and mentoring as well as local and national training and development opportunities.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £15,009 per year tax-free stipend.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee.

Location: College of Medicine and Health, St Luke’s Campus, Exeter.

Entry requirements

This PhD studentship is designed for a candidate with a passion for using evidence to improve decision-making and applying this to improving dementia outcomes.

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least  7.0 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable(see

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.

• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 16 September 2019.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter St Luke’s Campus (date to be confirmed).

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730 or +44 (0)1392 725150.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Professor Jo Thompson-Coon: or Dr Dylan Kneale:


Application deadline:16th September 2019
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Office +44 (0)1392 722730 / 5150