The project involved 6th-year pupils documenting the life stories of individuals with dementia. The group sessions were held weekly in Calderglen High School. Initially, the pupils received dementia awareness and life story training followed by a practice session delivered by two members of the CMHT and the school Depute.
Benefits for the Community
The project was created to reduce the stigma associated with age and dementia, promoting a dementia friendly community. It has also given pupils training on dementia awareness and this will help them to make their community more dementia friendly once they have left high school.
Benefits for the Younger People
This project developed pupils understanding of dementia, increasing their knowledge and developing empathy by active learning in practice. The pupils developed life skills to take forward as they prepare to leave school and become active compassionate citizens within the community.
Benefits for the Older People
The project aimed to empower individuals with dementia, by focusing on their strengths and experiences, encouraging their role as educator and expert, by sharing their life stories. Individuals with dementia received their personalised life-story book, supporting their journey with dementia. The individuals with dementia gained psychological benefits from engaging in the project.
The project received no funding. It was supported within the workings of Calderglen High School and the NHS East Kilbride CMHT.
Both the pupils and the people with dementia were given the opportunity to given written feedback on their experiences as part of a questionnaire we asked them to complete. We conducted a brief thematic analysis on the responses we received. Both groups were analysed independently of each other, but common themes were noted. Themes that emerged from both the participants with dementia and the pupils included: intergenerational engagement and confidence. Within the data from the participants with dementia a separate theme of sharing meaningful stories emerged. Other themes from pupils included learning and skills development and joint goal attainment.
Responses from the persons with dementia –
“Just coming and meeting and talking to the young ones. Just talking and laughing with them and their learning things they didn’t know about”.
“They were very mannerly and do you know we were killing ourselves laughing. They treated us with respect and we were able to converse on an equal plane.”
“I thought it was fabulous. I liked it was in the school. It was helpful that we were sitting in small groups and it was good that it was the same pupils every week because we’ve become good friends”.
“More confidence to speak about my life”.
“Well, I feel as if I’m still the person I was, I can talk and interact with people”.
Sharing Meaningful Stories
“I think talking about things that happened a while ago that we didn’t think were interesting and finding out it’s interesting to the girls”.
“Enjoyed the company and interest of young people”.
“I think because we’ve all got stories to tell and they were interested in my stories”.
Responses from pupils –
“The most helpful part was being able to converse and engage with older people and learn from their experiences”.
“I found it helpful that we wanted to achieve the same goal with the training”.
“Someone willing to be so open and personal to share their life experiences and trust such young people”.
“[The group] helped improve my confidence”.
“It made me more confident and understanding towards people with dementia”.
Learning and Skills Development
“learning how to communicate with someone who has dementia”.
“Learning to work as part of a team and being able to delegate tasks to other people”.
The pilot of this group and results gathered provide evidence of the benefits that could be gained from providing this service and it is recommended that this project could be rolled out to include other schools and in other areas to offer pupils the unique opportunities to learn how to interact with individuals with dementia and to learn about their lived experiences as well as giving people with dementia the opportunity to share their life stories with young people and have these documented. Following feedback, a slight change to the format will be implemented where the pupils will be encouraged to recap/summarise the information gathered in the previous week’s session to confirm details gathered, prior to commencing discussion for that session.
We took the priorities from Guided by Scotland’s Dementia Strategy 2 (2013-2016). The East Kilbride community mental health team for older adults (CMHT, OA) are also committed to making a difference and enhancing the quality of life for people who have dementia; continually striving to develop and improve their service.
Calderglen High School were inspired by its aim to embrace working together to inspire learning and shape the future. Our mission statement is : “We are a community of learners committed to transforming lives. We care for each other and work to create a supportive, encouraging and nurturing environment where we can flourish.”
Scottish NPF Objectives
People with dementia have a right to feel involved and included in their community (Standards of Care for Dementia in Scotland, 2011) and key to tackling stigma is a fundamental need to continue raising awareness and maintaining community connections (Dementia and equality: meeting the challenge in Scotland report, 2016; Charter of Rights for people with dementia in Scotland, 2009). Alzheimer Scotland has endorsed the ethos of dementia friendly communities as being pivotal for social inclusion and reducing stigma however for this to be achieved an understanding of dementia is required. Furthermore, Perkins et al (2016) highlight that recovery in dementia is connected to maintaining a sense of identity and participating as a valued citizen. Being Human: A human rights based approach to health and social care (2017) strengthens this argument, suggesting that people need to be listened to and their expertise valued.
Generations working together; intergenerational approaches to improving health and wellbeing (2014), found that older and younger people working together develop increased understanding, friendship and confidence and renewed feelings of self-worth in older people.
The project surely reflects Scotland’s strategic objectives of Smarter, Healthier and Safer and Stronger.
This project contributes to the Scottish National Performance Framework (NPF).