How Can We Create Dementia Friendly Occupational Therapy Graduates?

This was the question we explored in our You, Me and Dementia resource project.

Raising awareness of dementia and its impact on the lives of those we love, live with and work with is an increasingly important issue in the education sphere. University graduates need to enter society feeling equipped to support the growing numbers of people who experience dementia.

In January 2014, Julia-Helen and I had the privilege of working with our fantastic Occupational Therapy Lecturer Dr Claire Craig to create a co-produced dementia resource by students for students.

Claire wanted to explore ways to meet the new HFEE dementia curriculum for higher education and gave us the opportunity to co-create a resource delivered to occupational therapy students to share information about what dementia is, and how to work alongside people living with dementia in a sensitive and empowering way.

The ultimate aim was to create a resource that could be used not only with occupational therapy students, but tailored to meet the needs of different types of students across the university and developed into an online accessible App.


What do occupational therapy students need to know about dementia?

We met over 4 weeks, initially brainstorming what type of information to include in the resource – what do occupational therapy students need to know about dementia and how should we deliver it?

We felt that it was important to ask the students themselves what they wanted to know, so we sent out a poll to find out what they were most concerned about and what topics were important to them.

Based on their answers, we created a presentation using Prezi software and delivered this as a 1 hour lecture, covering information about the types of dementia and how to work with people with dementia with respect.

We drew on work by Kitwood and Jackie Pool, which promotes a person-centred equitable relationship and recognises that it is people living with dementia themselves who can teach us most about the condition and how to support them. We included short videos by the wonderful Scottish Dementia Working Group to illustrate this. (@S_D_W_G).


Click here to view the presentation we developed & then delivered.

We paired the lecture with an interactive 2 hour workshop, to give students the chance to explore what it might feel like to experience dementia through games, discussions and practical experiments. We also discussed creative ways to deliver occupational therapy interventions with an emphasis on self-expression through tools such as poetry and singing.

So what did the project achieve?

Well we had fantastic feedback from our student peers about their experience of the resource! And we ourselves underwent a transformation through the trust and responsibly bestowed on us co-production experience. It helped us step into our professional selves and envisage our future as autonomous occupational therapy practitioners.

Here is the link to the YouTube video of us talking about our dementia resource and our contribution to creating dementia-friendly occupational therapy graduates?

We would love to hear your comments on this work and other ideas you have to enable our practitioners of the future, of all disciplines to be “dementia-friendly”.


Gill Smith: 

Sheffield Hallam University occupational therapy graduate 


Julia-Helen Collins: @JuliaHelenOT

Sheffield Hallam University occupational therapy graduate 


4 thoughts on “How Can We Create Dementia Friendly Occupational Therapy Graduates?

  1. As a former O.T. who cared for her mother for 8 years following her sudden onset of dementia after meningitis, I found the support services did not provide the type of support I needed. There were many reasons for this and I was aware of the constraints on the services. Often there were tight schedules for those helping get people up and washed and dressed or for the tuck in service at night. I felt sorry for those doing these jobs as they often had to rush their clients and if I learned one thing in 8 years it was that each day was different and you could never be sure how long it would take to do even the simplest of tasks. The carers who came seldom were allowed to manage their own time schedule having set times in which to carry out the tasks required. Often they left with the job half done and in the end I undertook all the care myself as it was much easier to be flexible that way. I felt unable to say anything as my views were immediately seen as my not coping when in reality I was doing an excellent job. When I talk with others who are now carers they express the same sense of being treated as ignorant of issues, devalued and their concerns or observations about their relatives often ignored or dismissed as irrelevant or not having been observed by the “professionals”. What I needed was to be listened to taken seriously and given credit for knowing my mother better than any of them did.

    • I can relate to your comments Nancy, as an Occupational Therapy student who has recently taken a year out of my course to care for my elderly mother, who has vascular dementia.
      As you say each day is different and a tremendous amount of patience is required. At times I would describe it as a bad “Groundhog Day”. You feel one day as if you have just overcome a problem, or found a way to approach an issue and then you are faced with the same problem the next day and have to be inventive in finding another way around it.
      My sister and I feel fortunate to now have a positive team of health professionals and carers, who listen to my sister and I; working with us in my mother’s best interest. However, this has not always been the case, when my mother spent an awful 6 months in residential care and on 2 admissions to hospital earlier this year.

  2. Your mum was so lucky to have you and yes agree that if paid carers were given more time, things would be so much easier. From our family experience, we grew to love the carers that came to our house. They became part of our family and we quite miss them now. Their flying visits – over a period of time that was so important to us. Thanks for your blog and for raising this topic, time is such a precious gift. Sarah

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