WYLD Spotlight on Wienke Jacobsen


Our next SPOTLIGHT focuses on the bubbly and enthusiastic Wienke Jacobsen from  Germany. If you’ve been anywhere with Wienke you’ll know that she knows just about everyone in the world of dementia. So let’s find out a bit more about her amazing work improving the lives for people with dementia in Northern Germany and beyond.

What is your job title?

I am a PhD-Student (Prevention & Health Promotion) and a project employee in the field of dementia.

Where do you work?

A two year full time scholarship has given me the opportunity to focus on my PhD (which is just awesome 😊) and I work freelance for the Competence Centre Dementia Schleswig-Holstein in a social robot project. Before this I coordinated the development of the Dementia Strategy Schleswig-Holstein and worked as a lecturer at the University of Applied Science Hamburg.

How did you arrive at working in dementia?

When I studied social work (B.A), I never thought I would work with older people. I was doing HIV/STI prevention and working with kids with obesity. But then I had to analyse an interview to learn qualitative methods and I happened to meet a woman whose husband lived with dementia who really touched my heart. Later during my masters degree (health prevention & promotion), I developed a mindfulness health promotion program for caregivers, which I delivered a couple of times in “real life”. This experience intensified my ambition to help develop better living conditions for people living with dementia, their supporters and carers.

Wienke relaxing on the beautiful Northern coast of Germany

What do you do in your work?

In my former job I coordinated the process of developing a regional dementia strategy. This involved including recommendations from working groups (e.g. focus groups of people with dementia and caregivers) and scientific research. Later I worked for the Competence Centre Dementia in various projects, including “Farms as a place for people with dementia” and a working group for young carers. Currently I am involved in the development of a social robot to support people with cognitive decline and dementia, working with a robotic/artificial intelligence start-up (Blackout Technologies), the University of Bremen and IBM.

What is the best thing about your work?

The best thing is that I love what I do! It feels full of meaning and my boss gives me the freedom to “think outside the box”. The social robot, for example, began as an idea for a mobile app, but since we had limited financial resources as an Alzheimer’s Association I presented the idea at an IBM-Healthcare-Hackathon with a focus on robots (NAO). Five young computer experts pitched the project and worked almost 40 hours without any break. We actually won the competition and still work together on it.

Another awesome thing about my work are the international collaborations! On the one hand within the WYLD network, but I have also traveled for some weeks to Japan as a German delegate within the “Young Core Leaders in Civil Society Group Development Program” of the Japanese Cabinet Office to learn how they deal with the growing number of older people and people living with dementia. It was very inspiring!

What is the worst thing about your work?

The worst thing about a job you love is that you really have to watch yourself and your personal stress level. So, to all the other engaged and enthusiastic WYLD members out there: Please keep loving what you do, but don’t forget the real life out there! 😊

When developing the dementia strategy we used a participatory and bottom up approach, which is indispensable to come close to a consensus and to help strengthen acceptance of the final strategy. But I realized that “good things take time” and there are some discussions that went on for “years” without any movement. However, I am confident that the dementia strategy as a political commitment is an important signal and step forward.

You have worked to develop a dementia strategy and now you are doing a PhD – how do these two things complement each other, what are the pro’s and con’s of each?

Those two things do complement each other quite well since I am doing my PhD within the MINDMAP-Cities project (“Promoting mental well-being of older people in urban environments”) with a focus on healthcare planning strategies and policies. I conducted telephone interviews with experts from 12 European cities, as example employees of health ministries. The aim was to identify opportunities which cities offer to promote the mental health of older people. I was able to transfer some of my experience from the Dementia Strategy Schleswig-Holstein into my research. The downside of both is that I don’t work directly with the target group, but both can help to improve environmental determinants for many people in those areas, such as infrastructure and living conditions.

What is the best accomplishment so far?

The best accomplishment during the dementia strategy, which is the first one in Germany on behalf of a state parliament, is that it got adopted by all political parties including additional financial resources! That is an important political statement and commitment. It makes me very happy, that “my baby” will hopefully make some change 😉.

Where were you born?

I was born in Husum, Germany on the North Sea and grew up in a small village close to Denmark. There I’ve spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s organic farm – which is maybe why I really love the farming and dementia project 😊

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I just moved from Hamburg to Kiel, which is on the Baltic Sea and I want to pick up kitesurfing again. Otherwise I love the beach, going for long runs and spending time with friends and family – I have five younger sisters and one younger brother, so there is always something happening!

What is the best thing about Germany?

Actually, I feel sometimes closer to Denmark. No, just kidding, but I really love the North. I´d say Germany is good regarding health care and access to education, since we don’t have to pay to study. And I can recommend a visit to Schleswig-Holstein, it is in the middle of Hamburg, Denmark and the North- and Baltic Sea. If you want to relax and enjoy the silence, you should come here 😊.

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