I always thought it was strange, that the ambitious aim of a Dementia Friendly Society tended to be accompanied by somewhat small scale solutions. This is not due to a lack a passion or interest on the topic, but it seems to be as a response to the complex nature of creating a “cohesive system of support that recognises the experiences of the person with dementia and best provides assistance for the person to remain engaged in everyday life in a meaningful way“.
From my perspective, reducing stigma and raising awareness of dementia is key, as many barriers to achieving a Dementia Friendly Society stems from peoples’ poor understanding of dementia and the associated stigma. It is long established that negative and stigmatising attitudes towards mental illness forms during childhood, and this also seems to be no different for dementia. The school education system is a perfect platform to provide universal awareness of dementia, at a stage where children are receptive to new information.
There is however a key gap in knowledge about how we best achieve this. In collaboration with University of Bradford and Leeds Beckett University, we have been exploring teenagers’ attitudes towards dementia and how they relate to their past experiences of dementia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, initial findings highlight that the more contact these teenagers have with dementia the more likely they are to have positive attitudes towards dementia. Interestingly, the benefits of indirect contact (e.g. education) has a similar effect to direct contact (e.g. spending time with someone with dementia).
These findings could help direct future dementia awareness initiatives, as there is often a (headline grabbing) focus on providing contact between people with dementia and children. However, it is possible that benefits to children’s attitudes towards dementia could be achieved through a class based exercises. This is an important, because after many evenings talking about schools with my teacher wife, it is clear how time and resource poor our education system is. Through creating a dementia awareness initiative that is effective and low burden in schools, will likely maximise uptake and become more palatable for inclusion in the curriculum.
So let’s think to the future, and aim for a Dementia Friendly Generation.
Dr Nicolas Farina is a Research Fellow at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. With a background in Psychology, Neuroscience and Neuropsychology, Nick has eclectic research interests spanning from the benefits of physical activity, to identifying ways to maintain and improve people’s quality of life.
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