Young students in Unley learn about dementia first hand - Education Matters Magazine

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Young students in Unley learn about dementia first hand

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The City of Unley has partnered with Unley Primary School, aged care provider ECH and the University of South Australia to deliver and evaluate ‘Forget Me Not’, an immersive program about dementia, to 90 Year 4 and 5 students.

In 2017, the City of Unley commissioned the University of South Australia to undertake a scoping study to identify opportunities that would help create a dementia-friendly community in Unley. An intergenerational program called ‘Forget Me Not’, linking school students with people living with dementia was developed and received $25,000 in grant funding from the State Government’s Office of the Ageing.

From this week, students at Unley Primary School will have a weekly lesson about dementia delivered by expert staff from the University. From week three of the eight-week program, students will take weekly art lessons alongside people living with dementia at ECH Seasiders Day Program at Henley Beach.

City of Unley Acting Mayor Peter Hughes said the art lessons would have a ‘Corner Store’ theme.

“The theme is designed to encourage interactions across generations and aims to explore differences between the past and present in how we shop, how food is grown, what shops look like and how we travel to the shops and get our groceries home. This connects with the National Curriculum Cross-Curriculum Priority of ‘Sustainability’,” Cr Hughes said.

“In one of the activities, students will be printing and dyeing fabric for Boomerang Bags, which are made from recycled fabrics and designed to promote the reduction in use of plastic bags. These will be sewn by dedicated volunteers at a separate community sewing bee at Clarence Park Community Centre.”

The City of Unley is the first council in South Australia to be recognised as a World Health Organisation Age Friendly City for its commitment to ensuring and celebrating the positive experiences of older people throughout their lives.

Research shows that social interactions for people living with dementia can be more cognitively stimulating than any other exercise, and may contribute to slowing the progression of the disease. Intergenerational interactions are critically important as they stimulate memories, creativity and imagination in both young and old. Children are often perceptive and empathetic and when children and older people interact, a sense of playfulness and understanding can be created. In addition, it is more common these days for children not to have regular contact with older people, and this program provides that opportunity.

Unley Primary School Principal Peter O’ Sullivan said the program had significant merits for 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. This program teaches children lifelong skills such as communication, empathy and compassion whilst also educating them about the ever-growing issue of dementia,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

The University of South Australia, led by Researchers and Doctors Ashleigh Smith, Hannah Keage and Tobias Loetscher, secured an additional $40,000 of funding to evaluate the project and determine the effect it has on attitudes and quality of life for all participants.

“Dementia is a national health priority, with one in 10 people over 65, and three in 10 over 80 living with dementia. Despite this, there is still stigma and misunderstanding of dementia in the community,” Dr Smith said.

“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 engaged in the program. Additionally, we are excited to see positive and collaborative relationships develop between the students and people living with dementia.”

The evaluation will be used by the University and the City of Unley to develop a program which can be rolled out to other schools in South Australia.

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