Occupational Therapy Students become Dementia Friends

pic 1 In 2015 a strategic alliance between Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh and Alzheimer Scotland was created, formalizing a partnership between the two organisations that had been working in successful collaboration for several years prior to this. The overarching aim of this alliance is to improve the care and quality of life for people living with dementia and their carers through developing innovative and robust learning opportunities for healthcare students studying at Queen Margaret University. Asked about the strategic alliance Ian McMillan, Head of Division for Occupational Therapy and Arts Therapies at Queen Margaret University explained, “(at QMU) we are very serious about educating our students about the wider considerations of dementia.  All allied health professionals in employment will, at some point, work with people with dementia, as well as their families and carers. By working with Alzheimer Scotland we can equip our students to better understand people’s needs and to work much more effectively in the changing landscape of health and social care in Scotland” (QMU 2015, P.1).

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A number of Dementia Friends sessions have been held at the university, with the aim of equipping the future workforce with the valuable knowledge and skills for interacting and working with people with dementia that these sessions provide. Having become a Dementia Friend myself during my 2015 occupational therapy internship with Alzheimer Scotland, QMU and Santander Universities, I was aware of how useful the sessions were, and was keen to offer my fellow occupational therapy students an opportunity to become Dementia Friends themselves.

With the help of academic staff, I discovered that there was significant interest in becoming Dementia Friends from occupational therapy students across the undergraduate programme, so I made contact with Anne McWhinney, Dementia Friends Programme Manager at Alzheimer Scotland, and we arranged for three sessions to be held for occupational therapy students at QMU on 14th March 2016. The sessions were well attended and received and there were 34 new Dementia Friends by the end of the day as a result.

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Q & A with a recent occupational therapy graduate

I completed a short interview with a recent QMU occupational therapy graduate, Kirsty Daly, who attended one of the Dementia Friends sessions in March, in order to gain some insight into her experience of taking part in the session.

Q: What level of dementia experience did you have prior to becoming a Dementia Friend?

A: I had very limited experience in working with this client group as none of my practice placements had been within a dementia setting. I had come across people with dementia during placements, but had never worked specifically with this client group.

Q: Why did you decide to sign up for the Dementia Friends session?

A: I am always interested in broadening my knowledge, and having had no specific placement in a dementia based setting, but still coming into contact with people with dementia indicated to me how important it is to understand dementia regardless of the practice setting. I felt that taking part in the session would be of benefit to me and the people who I would be working with as a qualified occupational therapist in the future.

Q: What did you know about Dementia Friends prior to taking part in the session?

A: I had heard of Dementia Friends from friends and classmates, but didn’t know exactly what was involved.

Q: What did you learn from the session?

A: I learned loads as a result of becoming a Dementia Friend. Some learning points that stood out for me were: how small tasks that we often take for granted can pose a difficult challenge for people with dementia; the importance of patience when communicating and working with a person with dementia, and the difference that this can make to the individual; and that reality for a person with dementia can be very different to what I might be experiencing.

Q: Did anything surprise you during the session?

A: Anne gave a ‘real-life’ example about a gentleman with dementia who had developed a fear of going into the bathroom in his home and his loved ones could not work out why this was. After spending some time with the gentleman and allowing him the time to explain the problem, the practitioner and his family established that a large mirror in the bathroom was causing him distress as he did not recognise his reflection, leading him to believe that there was a stranger in the room (I know I wouldn’t want to use my bathroom with a stranger in there!). Removing the mirror allowed the gentleman to enter the bathroom without becoming distressed, and use the bathroom facilities independently. I felt that this was a brilliant example of how a small change can make a huge positive difference to the life of a person with dementia.

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Q: Has becoming a Dementia Friend been beneficial to you as an occupational therapy professional?

A: Yes, the innovative and interactive methods used to deliver the session provided me with a deeper understanding of what it might be like to live with dementia. In turn, when working with people with dementia I will have a more holistic understanding of what they might be experiencing and why they might be doing and saying certain things.

Q: Would you recommend becoming a Dementia Friends to your friends and colleagues?

A: Yes! The session was really interesting and good fun. I would recommend becoming a Dementia Friend to students, professionals and the general public.

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Thank you for reading our blog and what would you answer if asked Would you recommend becoming a Dementia Friends to your friends and colleagues? “

For more information on Dementia Friends sessions can be found at the Dementia Friends Scotland website: http://www.dementiafriendsscotland.org

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pic-7-ConvertImageLynsey Robertson-Flannigan: Occupational Therapist

I recently graduated from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh with a BSc (Hons) in Occupational Therapy. Throughout my studies and my adult life I have had a specific interest in dementia and was lucky enough to complete an internship in 2015 with Alzheimer Scotland, Queen Margaret University and Santander Universities. This internship provided countless opportunities to broaden my knowledge and understanding of dementia and I loved every minute of it. I am currently in the process of becoming an occupational therapy volunteer for Alzheimer Scotland. I hope to secure an occupational therapy position in a dementia-based setting in early 2017, having had some time off with my baby who was born at the end of July this year.


Kirsty Daley : Occupational Therapist

@ kirsty_d_103

I recently qualified as an occupational therapist, graduating with a BSc (Hons) in occupational therapy from Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh in July 2016. I am currently taking a month out to travel around Canada before beginning my first post as a Band 5 community occupational therapist with NHS Lothian, working in older peoples’ mental health.



3 thoughts on “Occupational Therapy Students become Dementia Friends

    • Thanks for your reply Anne, and for delivering excellent Dementia Friends sessions earlier in the year!


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