Alzheimer’s Society puts Dementia on the NI School Curriculum

Alzheimer’s Society has worked with the CCEA to put dementia on the school syllabus in Northern Ireland, with the aim of creating the first ever dementia friendly generation.

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Today the Society has launchededucational resources in English and Irish language, which will form part of the Northern Ireland Curriculum, to help children better understand what dementia is and how to deal with their personal experiences of it.

There are more than 20,000 people in Northern Ireland living with dementia – a number that continues to rise - and it is estimated that a third of young people know someone with the disease. 

The easy-to-use schools resources are endorsed by curriculum leaders CCEA and cover key stages 1 to 4 (aged 5-16). The resources support the Learning for Life and Work, and Personal Development and Mutual Understanding subjects. With better understanding gained through the lessons, activities and supporting materials the ability of students to cope with changes in someone close to them greatly increases.

Speaking at the launch at Bangor Grammar School, where the resources were first piloted, Alzheimer’s Society Regional Operations Manager, Adele Doherty, said: 

'We have developed these resources to help young people to better understand dementia within their community or perhaps even in their own families.  Dementia is a progressive condition for which currently there is no cure, so it is incredibly important to ensure people living with dementia feel more supported and included in their community. By educating young people directly through their schools we are working towards creating a dementia friendly generation.'

Principal for Bangor Grammar School, Mrs Elizabeth Huddleson, said:

'A third of our pupils will know someone with dementia now, and over their lives will meet many more people, so Bangor Grammar School is really pleased to be part of creating this first dementia friendly generation. 

'Our teachers found the Alzheimer’s Society educational resources relevant to the curriculum and easy to use, and our students have gained real insight into what it might be like to navigate the world with dementia. They are far more confident that they will be able to deal with dementia, however it enters their lives.'

Christian Orr, Pupil of Bangor Grammar, explained what he had learned after taking part in the pilot project. He said:

'I’ve realised there is a lot more to it than just forgetting the simple stuff.  It can affect how people see you as a person.'

Liz Cunningham, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, said:

'By creating a dementia-friendly generation, young people will have increased confidence and understanding when communicating with people with dementia, helping to reduce social isolation and stigma.'

A CCEA spokesperson said:

'CCEA are pleased to endorse the Alzheimer’s Society’s educational materials on dementia.  They provide a range of very relevant materials for teachers at Key stages 1-4 and facilitate the development of cross-curricular skills, thinking skills and personal capabilities. They help contribute to the development of desirable attitudes and dispositions that are key to active citizenship which is so important in today’s society.'

In a statement supporting the launch, Education Minister, Peter Weir said: 

'I welcome the launch of this important resource for schools from the Alzheimer’s Society in Northern Ireland. With so many of our young people helping to care for family and friends with dementia, it is vital that they are equipped with the right tools to help them. 

'Schools provide children with a wide-ranging and broad education helping them to become well-rounded individuals.  It is right that as part of their education they learn about issues such as dementia and learn the skills needed to best take care of and help family members and friends who have the condition. I want to thank the Alzheimer’s Society for their efforts to support our young people.'

Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly Communities programme is Northern Ireland’s biggest ever initiative to change the way people think, act and talk about dementia, tackling the stigma - so that people affected by dementia feel understood and included in all aspects of community life.