Young and old join forces to beat dementia

Unley Primary School students Zara Rodda (left) and Aachan Dwivedi (far right) with ECH clients Iris Halley and Pat Albon. Photo courtesy City of Unley. HEALTH
Unley Primary School students Zara Rodda (left) and Aachan Dwivedi (far right) with ECH clients Iris Halley and Pat Albon.
Photo courtesy City of Unley.

Primary school students are being paired with people living with dementia in the community to raise awareness about the condition and to potentially aid the cognitive development of participants.

Nine News Adelaide spoke to UniSA researcher Dr Ashleigh Smith and the City of Unley’s Alyssa Hill about the Forget me not program.Nine News Adelaide spoke to UniSA researcher Dr Ashleigh Smith and the City of Unley’s Alyssa Hill about the Forget me not program.

UniSA has partnered with the City of Unley, Unley Primary School and aged-care provider, ECH, to develop a new intergenerational dementia education program – called Forget me not.

The eight-week program is delivering weekly lessons about dementia to 90 Year 4 and 5 Unley Primary School students.

The students have also started collaborative art lessons with people living with dementia at the ECH Day Program at Henley Beach.

Lead UniSA researcher, Dr Ashleigh Smith, says the immersive program will help build a dementia-friendly community.

“Dementia is a national health priority, with one in 10 people aged over 65, and three in 10 aged over 85 living with dementia,” Dr Smith says.

“Dementia is a clustering of neurodegenerative conditions, affecting cognitive development, memory, and behaviour with no cure.

“And while many people living with dementia live well, they do benefit greatly from social interactions as these generate memories, creativity and imagination, all cognitively stimulating factors that can help slow the progression of the disease.

“The Forget me not program provides many opportunities for social interaction, and enables primary school students to learn from older people living with dementia, while the older people are able to take on a role as teachers and mentors through positive interactions.

“We’re not only building a dementia-friendly community, we’re also creating greater acceptance and understanding of a condition that affects thousands of Australian families.”

Unley Primary School Principal Peter O’Sullivan says the program offers significant benefits to students and their families.

“With people living longer, more families are exposed to dementia and are often ill equipped to explain its complexities to their child,” O’Sullivan says.

“This program teaches children lifelong skills such as communication, empathy and compassion whilst also educating them about the ever-growing issue of dementia.”

City of Unley acting Mayor Peter Hughes says that all the organisations involved are excited about the program and the potential positive impact it will have on the participants, the community and the school.

“People living with dementia report that the key to a dementia friendly community is a positive and accepting community,” he says.

“It is therefore important to provide opportunities for these values to be formed in children at an age when they are developing their world views.

“We are particularly excited to be teaching dementia education early in life and hope the program helps improve knowledge and attitudes towards dementia in the students now, and in the future.”

The Forget me not program has been developed with support from the State Government’s Office for the Ageing and the UniSA Research Themes Investment Scheme grants.

Following an evaluation by UniSA, Forget me not may be extended to other schools in South Australia.

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