‘It is our duty to teach children about dementia’

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One in three children in the UK is affected by dementia. They may have a grandparent with the condition, or a family friend. Yet in schools we do very little to help our students understand dementia, or to help them cope with the impact it can have on families and the sufferer themselves.

At Alder Grange in Rawtenstall, we wanted to change that. My whole school, 900 students and 60 staff, have become Dementia Friends.

As Dementia Friends, we go into the local area and assist someone who is affected by the condition. It is a win-win – we get out into the community doing really important work, and the students get a better understanding of dementia and how best they can help.

This training we were given really captured the struggles dementia sufferers go through. One task involved the process of getting dressed. The children stood in a line, each representing an item of clothing. Their task was to put themselves in the right order for getting dressed – underwear, trousers, shirt, socks, shoes… They were then mixed up and asked to reorder themselves.

It sounds basic, but it was tasks like this that made our students realise the same harsh truth about dementia. How it can affect even the most simple daily task. How confusing life can become. 

It’s not on the curriculum, of course. But students come to us to learn life skills. Going into the community to help those suffering with dementia is integral to that. Our young people have learned a truly valuable lesson – how to be caring and considerate to those around them. I feel they will now be ready to face dementia wherever they come across it. It is our duty to prepare them.

I also feel this training will provide more care and comfort for dementia sufferers. My hope is that it will lead to an improved quality of life for those affected in our community.

David Hampson was talking to Freya Smith. He is headteacher at Alder Grange School in Rawtenstall, Rossendale

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