My career spans well over 30 years and in that time I’ve been to numerous scientific/health conferences and listened to eminent speakers present leading edge research. I’ve been impressed by facts, figures, charts, and fabulously colourful diagrams (molecular geneticists seem to excel at these). From all of these, probably three stand out. Two because complex material was presented so clearly we were all able to appreciate the implications and value of what was being achieved. The other was because I was so bitterly disappointed that the keynote leading lecture by the very eminent scientist was completely over the heads of most of the audience (even the molecular geneticists struggled) and I learnt nothing (except a reminder of the importance of avoiding jargon and PowerPoint slides that no-one more than a metre away can read…).
Last week I found myself at another conference, on Alzheimer’s disease hosted by the Faculty of Health, Sport and Science and Grwp Gwalia. We had the facts and figures (that there are currently around 38,000 people in Wales with dementia, and this figure is likely to rise to 48,000 by 2021) alongside some interesting presentations on initiatives to provide care for patients and families affected by the condition. But what I think will really have moved the audience to try to ‘do their bit’ for such families was the story told by Peter Oldacre, husband and carer of Ann. Peter showed a brief video of Ann’s life since her diagnosis just a few years ago, narrated by her daughter. The story was told simply, sincerely and with occasional humour. I was not the only person wiping away tears as Peter’s story drew to a close.
Good quality evidence is of course crucial in informing policy. But the human face of that, as told through real life stories, is what I think can really make a difference in getting people to engage with the evidence. I shall remember Peter’s story, and his courage in telling it, for a long time.