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By Professor June Andrews

March 4th, 2016

Northern Ireland and Dementia

The DSDC has been funded for the last year to undertake a programme of work in Northern Ireland that is probably the first of its kind in the world.   It is supported through the Dementia Services Development Trust which has been funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies to deliver a project that aims to change the way people think about dementia.  

Increased awareness of dementia in recent years has come at a cost.  People often only think of dementia as exclusively a memory problem.  We are bombarded with celebrity accounts of how dementia has affected them, overblown reports of dementia “cures”, and national and international political commitments to finding a vaccine or drug that will make all the difference – the ‘moonshot’.

In the light of all this, the Dementia Festival of Ideas has been conducting a year-long series of master classes. These classes have been run with thought leaders, not the ‘usual suspects’ in the world of dementia, but philosophers, artists, journalists, political analysts, financiers and clinicians from related fields and have been discussing what dementia means to us all, other than what we have been fed by culture and the media.

The rich findings from this work are now being fed into several streams of work in Northern Ireland and include everything from work with school children, to a residential weekend with artists.  We are asking how people with no direct experience develop their ideas about dementia. In recognition that the public perception of dementia is shaped by the media we have asked where is the midpoint between simplification to support fundraising, publicity or political agenda, and the complexity of the reality of an individual experience.

Our experience with children shows that they can quite quickly move from being anxious about meeting people with dementia to feeling comfortable with them. Children and young people can carry messages directly to the heart of the family about the best ways of communicating with and supporting the person with dementia.  The DSDC team will share the outcomes of the project where school pupils from a variety of backgrounds were given brief education about dementia and then spent time with people affected by the condition.  People with dementia spent time with the young people talking about their lives and experiences, giving of their knowledge and experience.

Look out in the month of March for a range of events in and around Belfast.

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