Part of our mission at Alzheimer’s Research UK is to empower people across all generations through greater understanding of dementia. Working closely with people affected by dementia, we look for as many opportunities to do this as possible – through this blog, our health information, public meetings, the press, our Infoline, videos, and even virtual reality.
But we have our work cut out for us. There is still a certain amount of stigma surrounding dementia, much of it born out of a widespread misunderstanding of what the condition actually is. A YouGov survey we commissioned last year showed that, when asked what they think dementia is and who it affects, just 23% of British adults specifically mentioned brain disease or degeneration. Many people tend to think of dementia as a by-product of ageing and that, just like growing old, it is somehow inevitable. In fact, most people – even those who live into their 90’s – don’t develop dementia, and with enough research there is no reason why diseases like Alzheimer’s can’t be effectively tackled through medical science.
It’s not too difficult to understand why these misconceptions are so common. It has only been relatively recently that even medical professionals have been talking about diseases like vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies or Alzheimer’s rather than terms that link changes in brain function to old age.
The seeds we plant
The beliefs, attitudes and passions that people develop early in life can persist for many years or may never change. That’s why, alongside the information we provide for a general audience, we are making a targeted effort to engage the younger generation with dementia and scientific research, and working to nip misconceptions and stigma in the bud.
To do this we developed Dementia Explained, a website for younger people to find out more about dementia. We’re also providing books about dementia for children, engaging young people at science festivals and our next step is getting information about dementia and research into the classroom.
We’ve been working with the National Schools Partnership to produce Brain Box, a set of curriculum linked resources for year 7-9 (11-14 years old) science classes. The packs provide a framework for an engaging classroom project that, as well as increasing understanding of dementia, we hope will enthuse students with science and inspire the next generation of dementia researchers.
Using online content, researcher blogs, videos, games and research case studies, Brain Box provides a suite of materials that teachers can use flexibly to plan lessons that develop scientific enquiry skills. Mirroring the process for real scientists, students develop their own research questions and present them to peers at a ‘science summit’, where they can vote on which proposals are most worthy of funding.
We’ve developed these packs for students who have yet to choose their GCSE subjects and hope they will encourage them to consider science courses as they continue through their education while helping to explain the importance of scientific research in tackling a condition that affects so many people.
Take a look at our education resources of the National Schools Partnership website.
Visit Dementia Explained for a range of online dementia resources aimed at children of different ages.