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Helga Rohra, member of the EWGPWD, writes “Dementia goes to school”

Monday 28 August 2017

Advocates in dementia all over Europe have a strong wish: let young people know that a diagnosis of dementia is never the end.

There are still valuable existing resources that can be activated!

My aim is raising awareness among youngsters, taking away the fear of this diagnosis and having a dialogue.

To be able to do this, please follow in my steps .It is rewarding for both sides: people with dementia and youngsters .It is innovative and it is a MUST – please LISTEN to us.

First you need a list of schools in your area - in your county. Decide what the best age is to talk about what pupils have learned from books, seen in the media or have lived in their family.

I advise that the best age is youngsters starting from the age of 14/15 years and older.

Please consider that the way you explain dementia can also influence their future field of study, even the profession they take.

Next step: you contact the Head of the school or perhaps, with luck, you know a teacher personally.

Are you yourself a person with dementia, who worked at a school or institute? It will be get easier for you, if so!

You will get many answers like: the time table is overloaded - the staff see no point in having a person with dementia at their school - the pupils are too young!

Be prepared to answer, and adopt a firm attitude.

Next step – now you know the age of your pupils, you have to know how many hours the topic of dementia was discussed in class - then you contact the teacher in charge and the Head too. Now a plan has to be discussed between the teacher and you; the person with dementia and your care partner. The teacher will go into details of dementia in a special class, either sociology or ethics. Then after some weeks you may even be announced in the daily press:

"Person with dementia ... (name) in dialogue with the school...grade..."

Stay tuned for the report to follow…

The special day arrived:

In the big hall of the school - pupils gather

You are welcomed like someone precious!

All are very silent and curious!

Teachers feel a bit embarrassed. Youngsters do not show any emotions at all at the beginning.

My attitude: make them feel I AM still the person - the teacher I once was.

Communication on the same level from the very start.

They get involved, I prepared work cards.

We split into groups - a vivid interaction develops.

And after 2 hours my gift of the day:

"Now I have a new view on dementia - I learnt that people with dementia can even be optimistic and challenging too. I think I would like to study in the dementia field - it is fascinating!"

Pictured: Helga Rohra together with a class in Herford, Germany

Helga is a former Chair and current member of the European Working Group of People with Dementia (EWGPWD).