‘Will Grandad Remember Me’ is a dementia educational and awareness programme developed by the Dementia Services Information and Development Centre (DSIDC). The aim of the programme is to increase awareness among secondary school students about ageing and dementia and to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of Alzheimer's disease and of the risk factors for dementia, especially lifestyle risk factors such as smoking, alcohol, and obesity. The programme promotes a clear and focused message about growing old and ageing well; how the brain and memory work and how alcohol, diet and smoking affects the developing brain. The programme promotes a greater understanding of dementia and in particular how young people can help a person to live well with dementia.
The programme is divided into five parts. The first provides a general introduction to the programme, a definition of ageing, what it is like to grow old in Ireland and the biological and psychological changes which occur as we age. The second part provides the students with information about the brain, its lobes and their respective functions, how memory works and why short term memory becomes impaired in people who have dementia. The third part emphasizes the importance of brain health with the main message being that what is good for your heart is also good for your brain. The students learn about the risk factors for dementia and also about protective factors that may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Dementia is the general theme for parts four and five of this course, which covers definitions of dementia, the different types of dementia, characteristics of dementia, how best to communicate with a person who has dementia and what people can do to help? It is shown that although advancing age is a risk factor for dementia, anybody (irrespective of age) can develop dementia including younger people and that those diagnosed are normal people and should not be subjected to negative stereotyping. It is argued that it is how we respond to people and how we make them feel that can have a huge impact on how well they live with their dementia.
During the 2014/2015 academic year, two secondary schools participated in the project- Christian Brothers School (CBS) James’s Street and Loreto Abbey Dalkey in South County Dublin. School term is incredibly busy and with this in mind the programme was designed to be flexible, with ample room for discussion, debate and questions. The five modules can be delivered individually over five weeks or condensed into a one-hour course attempting to provide a broad overview of dementia. The students in CBS were divided into four groups for a once a week 40-minute session covering each module over five weeks (800 minutes). In Loreto Abbey, the Transition Year students were divided into two groups each taking part in one-hour sessions (120 minutes).
To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme two validated scales were used with the CBS students. The first titled Approaches to Dementia Questionnaire (Woods & Lintern, 2001) was used to assess students attitudes to dementia both before and after the course was completed. It has two-sub-scales/categories, ‘hope’ (8 items) and ‘a recognition of person centeredness’ (11 items). This questionnaire contains 19 statements each of which are rated on a five point Likert scale (strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree nor disagree, agree and strongly agree). Positive attitudes are scored high and negative attitudes are scored low. It was found that whilst the scale was useful, several of the students had difficulty comprehending some of the questions posed. In addition the CBS students were given the tool titled - The Alzheimer's Disease Knowledge Scale (Carpenter et al. 2009) to evaluate their knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease. This is a 30-statement true/false scale covering risk factors, assessment and diagnosis, symptoms, course, life impact, care giving, and treatment and management (Carpenter et al. 2009).
Our findings indicate that this bespoke educational programme increased positive attitudes and knowledge about ageing and dementia across all four groups of secondary school students. Most importantly, the students were highly motivated; they talked to their friends about what they had learned and were eager to learn more and continue attending the course. In general they held optimistic views about older people and all of them felt that people with dementia should be given respect and treated the same way as everybody else in society. However, young peoples attitudes and how they are shaped and informed is multi factorial and this topic warrants further research among this age cohort. There is also an urgent need to develop a tool which would be more appropriate to this age group and which could evaluate their attitudes and their understanding of dementia. Although there is no evidence of what works best in this area in terms of teaching and training, based on this small-scale project and on the study’s findings, it seems that small-scale one to one dialogue and classroom work may work well. Long term however we have no idea whether the take home message from this course will ultimately affect the lifestyle choices these young people will make.
We are hoping to continue our work with CBS James’s Street and Loreto Abbey Dalkey during 2015/2016.
We’d like to thank the fifth year students of CBS James’s Street and the Transition Year students from Loreto Abbey Dalkey, Mr. Paul Mc Entee Principal CBS James’s, Vice Principals Ms Joanne Burke and Ms Nathalie Brady also CBS James’s Street and Ms. Marie Lonergan from Loreto Abbey Dalkey. Thanks are also due to Mr. Brian Fitzgerald, former CEO St. James’s Hospital and Ms. Fiona Gallagher, Dementia Friendly Communities, The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland.
Carpenter, B., Balsis, S., Otilimgam, P., Hanson, P., & Gatz, M. (2009). The Alzheimer’s Disease Knowledge Scale: Development and Psychometric Properties. The Gerontologist. 49(2). 236–247.
Lintern T, Woods B (2001) Approaches to Dementia Questionnaire. Bangor: University of Wales.