Wednesday 26 November 2014

Older people with dementia have begun sharing their life stories and memories with school children in an innovative new council project, thought to be the first of its kind in the region.

The council has developed its ‘Adopt a Care Home’ project linking a local school and care home to raise awareness of dementia and help create a new ‘dementia friendly generation.’

Year 5 pupils at Prince Edward Primary School at Manor Top will be taking part in weekly visits to Hurlfield View until the end of term where they will speak to residents receiving short term residential care and day care about their families, former occupations, favourite holidays and what has shaped their lives. The nine and 10-year-old children will then present their collection of life stories and mini autobiographies in a special school assembly.

Headteacher Julie Storey said: “The aim of this project is to increase our pupils’ knowledge of dementia so they will be able to understand and help in the future. By learning about how it feels to have dementia and by visiting the elderly to build relationships, we are enabling our pupils to feel they are making a positive contribution to the community, as well as breaking down barriers caused by a lack of understanding.”

Chris Scott, manager of day care and community services at Hurlfield View, said he hoped the project will help raise awareness of dementia and how it affects the elderly while allowing the older people to talk about their lives.

He said: “We wanted to get involved in the Adopt a Care Home project as we feel it’s a great opportunity to get young people involved in the dementia service we have been running here for more than 30 years.

“It’s such a positive approach which helps bridge the gap between the young and older generations and also shows that working closely together can raise awareness about degenerative diseases such as dementia.

“The children we are working with will of course be the next generation of carers so we really want to get across what the symptoms of dementia are, how the disease can change people and what it’s like to care for someone who is struggling with their memory. But we also want to showcase the person behind the disease too and to show they have had full and interesting lives.

“I know that many of our residents have been looking forward to sharing their life stories with the children and we know that building relationships like this has improved their wellbeing and happiness too.

“We’d love to build on the relationship we have started with Prince Edward Primary and welcome more young people back to our home in future so we can continue to raise awareness about dementia.”

Eddison Chan, 10, and nine-year-old Nicole Kelwick are among the youngsters getting to know Hurlfield residents Malcolm Boswell and Tina Blackburn.

Nicole said: “Our project has made me think more about what it’s like to have dementia, which is horrible. But it’s been fun talking to the residents about their lives. I have been asking them about their families and what they like to do.”

Eddison added: “We’ve been learning how dementia affects older people’s brains and what it might be like to lose your memory. We’ve been doing little exercises such as trying to cross our legs the other way to what we’re used to and tying our shoe laces backwards. I’ve learnt a lot already and it will be interesting to hear more from the older people we’ve met.”

Around 6,400 people live with dementia in Sheffield and this is expected to rise to more than 7,300 by 2020. Nationally, estimates suggest there are 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK and by 2021 this number is expected to reach more than 1 million.

Councillor Mary Lea, Sheffield City Council’s Cabinet Member for Health, Care and Independent Living, explained: “Dementia is a growing issue in Sheffield, as it is across the rest of the country.

“We’re working really hard to raise awareness of dementia and provide the support people with dementia need. This project provides a new way of doing this, which benefits young and older people alike.

“We’re positive about what the project can achieve and are looking to develop other innovative approaches to supporting people with dementia in Sheffield.”

Laura Di Bona and Sheila Kennedy from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield will evaluate the results of the project. If it is successful the council will look to roll it out to include more care homes and schools across the city.