Becoming the first school in the UK trained in dementia awareness
He looked a bit self conscious when he walked into the school hall. In front of him were a group of bewildered students, all wondering… “Who is that guy?” As he began to talk I could see the penny dropping around the room.
Kevin Swain, a retired florist, had come to our school on a very special day, to talk about his wife who has suffered from dementia for many years now. We invited him with hopes that he would inspire our students here at Alder Grange and show them the importance of awareness and caring for others.
Why did we bother? Well, it may surprise you to learn that one in three children in the UK is affected by dementia. It certainly hit me when I discovered this uneasy truth.
For me this means, a third of the students at my school, Alder Grange in Rawtenstall, will be touched by dementia.
I decided I needed to do something to help my students so I contacted Dementia Friendly Rossendale to find out more. And that’s when we started to arrange dementia awareness training for every single member of the school, staff and students.
Soon enough, everyone at Alder Grange was ready to undergo dementia awareness training with the help of BUPA and become Dementia Friends in just one day. That’s 900 students and 60 staff members.
The training sessions taught the students and staff how to be Dementia Friends. A Dementia Friend is simply someone able to go into their local area and help people affected by the condition. Essentially supporting them to live with dementia, something that is entirely possible though we may not realise it.
My intention in organising the training was not just to help students deal with relatives diagnosed with dementia, but to provide them with the skills to be able to actively help sufferers locally.
The training day involved so much. All of it inspiring and helpful, especially the talk from Kevin. He spoke of his wife with such love and you could see in his eyes how passionate he was about teaching the students about dementia. Kevin’s granddaughter attends Alder Grange so his story was close to our hearts. He talked about grieving for his wife though she is still around, the ups and downs and the knock on effect her condition has had on the whole family including granddaughter, Niamh.
The story moved the students and I think it encouraged them to want to take as much as they could from the rest of the training session.
There were also interactive activities included in the sessions. One that captured the struggle of everyday tasks for dementia sufferers involved the students thinking about the process of getting dressed. The children stood in a line, each representing an item of clothing. Their task was to put themselves in the right order of getting dressed. They were then mixed up again and asked to reorder themselves.
The task demonstrated the confusion of such seemingly simple tasks for those with dementia. A lot of the students and even staff were shocked that it didn’t occur to them how difficult everyday tasks are for dementia sufferers.
What difference will having the whole school involved make?The part of the training that struck me the most was the analogy they used to explain the loss of memory. They explained dementia using the idea of a bookcase, full of books representing memories. As dementia hits, the bookcase begins to rock and books fall away – memories are lost, the short term memories being the first to go. When we were shown how this applies to the emotions and feelings that sufferers go through the analogy became truly moving. It really hit home.
Well for starters, our students come to us ready to learn life skills, this particular lesson has taught them how to be caring and considerate to those around them. Giving them an understanding of dementia will benefit them in how they treat others, not only those with dementia but everyone around them.
Going back to the statement that started all of this – one third of children in the UK will be affected by dementia – I feel the students here are far better prepared, thanks to this training. That is exactly what I wanted.
For those with dementia, I feel this training will provide care and comfort. My hope is it will lead to an improved quality of life for those in our community affected by dementia, either directly or as carers, through the support of our staff and students. Now it’s time for the word to spread.
Bio: David Hampson is Headteacher at Alder Grange School in Rawtenstall, Rossendale. David first joined the school as Head of Mathematics 21 years ago and has progressed to becoming Headteacher, as of September 2012. Ofsted has rated Alder Grange senior management outstanding since he became Headteacher and was privileged to be one of the 100 successful headteachers in the North West. David is always looking for new ways of helping the school, students and staff advance.