Back to school for people with early stage dementia

Published: 24 Sep 2015

Author: Alison Ward
Back to school for people with early stage dementia

Alison Ward, Researcher at the University of Northampton’s Institute for Health and Wellbeing, has recently returned from a Churchill Fellowship to Denmark. Her aim was to find out about creative activities and services which are being delivered to support people with dementia.

Alison spent four weeks at VUK (Voksenskolen for Undervisning og Kommunikation), a school for adult education providing cognitive training and creative lessons for people with dementia, who attend the school as students. 

Lessons cover a range of subjects including music therapy, computing and woodwork, as well as support with decision-making and daily functioning. This unique approach is enforced by a belief that the focus should be on the person rather than the diagnosis, and that everyone should have access to lifelong learning.

“Students rather than patients”

During her visit, Alison led a project exploring the students’ experiences of attending the school. Students took photographs of their school activities which were used as prompts for conversations and to create storyboards and poetry.

“Being able to work closely with people with dementia on this project was inspiring;” said Alison. “They placed great value on their experiences at VUK, and on their identity as students rather than patients. It was important for them to tell people about the school and what a positive impact it has on their cognitive function, wellbeing, social activities and supporting daily living.”

Alison also spent time at the Danish Dementia Research Centre and the Danish Alzheimer’s Association. She was particularly impressed with the way that the Danish services didn’t shy away from giving people with dementia more challenging tasks.

“At one point I visited a cabin in the woods which was set up so that people with dementia could go and look after it. They work in the garden and take part in daily activities which support their skills and functioning at home in a really practical way.”

Alison will be presenting her findings through the University of Northampton and Open University, and is writing a report which will be available on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website.