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Clare Wenger – Close to us

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

By David Jolley

Over the years you meet people, have time together and then go about separate business but never forget the impact they made on you personally and on the field of common interest. Seeing the name of Clare Wenger in the Guardian Obituary columns this week – with the most wonderful photograph of her engaging, mischievous face – brought back good memories.

My first contact with her came when she spoke at a residential meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Section (now Faculty) of Old Age Psychiatry. Not a psychiatrist, she was very much one of us – devoted to understanding the lives and experiences of older people in health and sickness or disability. How they came to be the people they were and how they related to family, friends and the wider world.

Some of us think and talk of ‘villages’ within the townships or cities where we live – the grouping of people, streets, houses, shops, churches, schools, pubs, health centres, libraries, markets, leisure centres, parks and so on which are the fabric of where we are known and know. Clare Wenger had taken an exploratory approach – starting with the older person(s) – who were contributing researchers – to learn about them and then to map out their contacts – to reveal personalise networks. The size, shape and content of these depended (depend) on their personal characteristics, preferences and the mini-world they had constructed over time. Within this it is possible to identify natural typologies – this opens the door to understanding – and to work with the individual and their family and friendship circles to make the best of things and to grow when faced with the new restrictions and impairments which late life may bring – and hence bring people to services such as ours (Old Age Psychiatry/Psychogeriatrics) or geriatric Medicine, or Social Services , or any number of voluntary/charitable ventures.

It was gently and modestly done and presented. It is a beautiful construct and will be of usefulness for ever.

We had an extended contact with Professor Wenger in our activities as Dementia Plus from Wolverhampton – she helped, encouraged and taught us with unassuming generosity.

Sadly we read that when she herself was in need of care for illnesses, she found that her work (and ours) had not made the impact we would have wished BBC NEWS | Wales | North West Wales | Patient’s dossier on ‘dirty’ ward. And so, we are encouraged to carry on campaigning.

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