Educating the next generation on dementia

DementiaCare home residents who have dementia and schoolchildren have been brought together in an innovative collaboration between researchers at the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), council officials and school and care workers in Sheffield that is attracting national attention.

The Adopt a Care Home project run by Sheffield City Council aims to raise awareness among the young of a condition that is estimated to affect more than 850,000 in the UK alone, and to give those with dementia the opportunity to meet and talk to young people in a safe and stimulating setting. Its success has been showcased by Channel Four News and has led other local authorities to consider adopting the scheme themselves.

Sheffield Council’s Andrew Wallace, who came up with the idea, said it was important at the outset to ensure the project had a robust, evidential base.

“One of our ambitions as a local authority is to make Sheffield a dementia friendly city. I approached the University in the hope that they could provide us with a baseline evaluation and work with us to assess the value of the programme,” said Andrew.

Following discussions with Dr Laura Di Bona at ScHARR, the project won the support of the University’s Impact, Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (IIKE) fund, and a pilot study involving a local primary school and a care home was established. The children had lessons about dementia in school, and a group visited the care home to speak to people with dementia about their lives and local history.

Our research found that participating in the scheme had wider impacts: it has opened up communication about dementia between children and parents. 

Dr Laura di bona, scharr, the university of sheffielD

“Our role was to explore whether the scheme was of benefit to two key groups of people – the residents with dementia and the schoolchildren – and to do that using robust, research methodologies,” said Laura, a researcher with extensive clinical experience as an occupational therapist and frontline work in mental health.

"Our research found that participating in the scheme had wider impacts: it has opened up communication about dementia between children and parents. Children discovered that they had relatives with dementia or parents who worked with people with dementia. School teachers also reported that the scheme had a positive influence on the personal development of children, as bonds between the class grew as they discussed emotionally challenging issues," added Laura.

“I think having a clinical background helped me establish credibility with the care home workers and the teachers,” says Laura, whose report into the Adopt a Care Home project has reinforced the Council’s decision to roll the scheme out to other schools and care homes.

One of the teachers involved in the scheme said: “The children have responded to the project so well. They have developed such an awareness so quickly and the empathy that they show at this young age is fantastic.”

By adding the rigorous research methods from Laura and her team to these personal comments from frontline staff, the Council has been able to assess the value of the scheme and the risks and opportunities in a wider roll out.

“My relationship with Laura and the team at ScHARR has been amazing. Being included in developing the evaluation has been fantastic, and I have been made to feel that my contribution is vital,” says Andrew, who is now spearheading the roll out of the scheme. “ The way that the evaluation was done was professional and concise and most of all with little fuss. The evaluation has proved to be a foundation for the development of the programme, and the basis for developing a collaborative relationship between the University and the Council,” he added.