Inside out: Children learn what it's like to live with dementia.

Inside out: Children learn what it's like to live with dementia.
Pictured at the Saint Joseph's dementia competition results day are Oisín Coyne, Yasmine Reynold and Leila Reynold

A care home builds links with kids, writes Helen O’Callaghan.

A new initiative to raise dementia awareness among children resulted in over 600 entries to a unique art competition from over 40 primary schools across South Dublin and North Wicklow.

The idea behind the Cherished Memories competition was to give Saint Joseph’s Shankill — the only care home in Ireland solely dedicated to dementia care — a platform to connect with local schools and begin important conversations with children, promoting understanding and exploring how we can all help people with dementia enjoy the quality of life they deserve.

“There’s a big battle to be fought in breaking down the stigma that accompanies dementia — yet children bring no prejudice,” says Saint Joseph’s fundraising manager Siobhan Grant.

An estimated 55,000 people live with dementia in Ireland, with 11 cases diagnosed daily. 

“In 20 years’ time, the numbers will have tripled, so today’s five- and seven-year-olds could be looking after a parent with dementia. 

"If it isn’t a taboo subject for them, it’ll be a lot easier to accept a diagnosis of dementia, to address it and bring it up in conversation. Historically, many people ignored it,” says Grant.

Every Monday morning during the school year, 10 children from local Montessori school Discoveries visit one of six lodges at Saint Joseph’s — residents here have early-stage dementia. 

The children come for two hours to play and colour and residents assist them with activities. 

“They sing, jump, do art; young and old get involved together. Residents don’t have to participate, some don’t, but others love having the children.”

Saint Joseph’s dementia care focuses on being in the moment and young children are very much in the moment, says Grant. 

“If we can make this moment happy, that feeling carries over into the next moment. And art, dance, and music break down barriers.”

The competition focused on cherished memories, mindful that memories retained longest by those with dementia are often those going back farthest. 

“The memories these children put in their art are probably ones they’ll carry all their life.”

Pupils participated across five award categories in what is Ireland’s only primary school initiative promoting dementia awareness. 

Twelve individual winners emerged with best collective effort award going to the senior infant class of Rathmichael National School.

www.saintjosephsshankill.ie

Resources

Dear Grandma (Alzheimer Society of Ireland), a storybook for eight-year-olds and over, helps explain dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, focusing on two children’s experience with grandma and the changes dementia brings.

Feathers in my Brain (The Crystal Project) sensitively addresses how dementia diagnosis can be felt by the whole family and how inclusion/openness can help everyone, covering ways children can continue to connect with a loved one.

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