Review - Power of young minds

4th January 2013 at 00:00
Children are key to ending the stigma surrounding dementia

Dementia-friendly communities supported by a dementia-friendly generation - that's the ambitious goal of a project launched at the start of this school year.

As co-chair of the Committee for Dementia Friendly Communities, alongside the chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, Jeremy Hughes, I am working to fulfil Prime Minister David Cameron's ambition of building a network of dementia-friendly communities across the country over the next three years.

I passionately believe that involving young people in a programme of dementia awareness will ensure the long-term success of this initiative. If we can break down the fear, denial and stigma attached to the illness by enabling young people to understand the condition, they will carry that knowledge into maturity, into their families, their workplaces and their lives.

We began by taking the excellent work of Dr Karim Saad in the West Midlands. In a limited project involving 12- to 14-year-olds in local schools, he produced a film showing the problems faced by teenagers living in a house with a grandfather who has dementia, and introduced a portfolio of suggestions like topics for discussions, memory tests and visits by dementia specialists, people with dementia and their carers.

We then identified a small pilot group of 21 schools from primary to senior level in rural and urban areas, which would be prepared to introduce dementia awareness into the curriculum. We provided the foundation for the work, but schools and the children themselves have had to take ownership of the project and adapt it to their own environment and needs.

In York, they are working on an original drama involving dementia patients and their carers. In Devon, six schools have combined their talents in a county-wide music project. One school has even invented a card game to improve memory skills and hand-eye coordination. Others are compiling sound and video interviews, creating an archive that will give a valuable insight into the social history of the past century.

We have already started to evaluate the work and progress of these schools and, based on their experiences and ideas, are preparing a framework that this year will be made available to every school in the country.

Broadcaster and journalist Angela Rippon is co-chair of the Committee for Dementia Friendly Communities. For further information about the work schools are doing on dementia, email katie.barnes@hscpartnership.org.uk.

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