University agreement shows dementia is serious business

By Press Office

University health academics have developed a strategic alliance with Scotland’s leading dementia charity in a bid to improve student understanding of dementia.

The move will ensure that healthcare students at Queen Margaret University have a robust education in dementia so that they are more effective as healthcare professionals when they move into the workplace. The ultimate aim is to improve the care and wellbeing of individuals with dementia and families affected by the condition across all service provision – within the NHS, private practice, social work and the voluntary sector.

Dementia is a word used to describe a group of illnesses or conditions for which there is no cure. Symptoms include memory loss, confusion, mood changes and increasing difficulty with day-to-day tasks. There are many types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common.  Currently 800,000 people in the UK have dementia and that figure is set to rise to over a million by 2021. In 2012, the financial cost of dementia to the UK was more than £23 billion. That cost is set to spiral as the number of people living with the disease, and others affected by their illness, continues to grow.

Queen Margaret University (QMU) and Alzheimer Scotland have been working together for several years, but the signing of an official agreement by the University’s Principal and the Chief Executive of the charity signals the increased level of commitment that both organisations are placing on student education. On the 1 st April, QMU’s Principal, Professor Petra Wend, will sign an official agreement with Henry Simmon s , Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland. Aside from marking the new alliance, the day-long event which is taking place at QMU’s campus in Musselburgh, will include talks and workshops from QMU academics and external dementia specialists. Students from across the university have been invited, but the day is primarily aimed at first year students from the allied health professions, including occupational therapy and physiotherapy, as well as nursing students.

An important part of the day will be the Alzheimer Scotland Memory Bus which will be located in University Square. The Memory Bus is a unique mobile information vehicle which travels across the country to raise awareness and support for those interested in, or affected by, dementia. It will be accessible to all QMU students and staff, and will also be open to members of the public on Wednesday 1 st April from 8.30am – 1pm. In addition, the students can also sign up to become Dementia Friends.

Ian McMillan, Head of Division, Occupational Therapy and Arts Therapies at Queen Margaret University, said: ““In Scotland alone about 90,000 people have dementia and that number doesn’t include the wider circle of people who are affected by a family member or friend with the condition. It is a growing problem and one that presents massive challenges for our health and social care services, as well as our economy.

“We are therefore 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.”

Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland, said: “Dementia is one of the biggest health issues in our society and there are few families in Scotland who are not affected by this illness. We must develop better ways of treating, supporting and caring for people with dementia, to enable them to live better in their own homes and communities. QMU should be commended for taking this bold step to embed dementia education into its teaching practice. This strategic alliance offers an innovative way of educating future health professionals about dementia. By working together, with QMU students, we can make a truly meaningful contribution to patient care both in the NHS and the independent healthcare sector.”

Amanda Stears, Lecturer in Physiotherapy at Queen Margaret University, has been organising the event in partnership with Alzheimer Scotland, the Scottish Dementia working group and NHS partners. She said: “This semester we have been piloting an on-line module on  ‘Living well with Dementia’ that we developed with Elaine Hunter, National Allied Health Professional Consultant at Alzheimer Scotland and Jenny Reid an AHP Dementia Consultant from NHS Lothian, with a range of students from across the university. These students have committed to do the module in their own time, and the depth of compassion and care that these students have demonstrated has been overwhelming. Our students really will make a difference to those they will care for whatever their role and we very much hope they will be ambassadors within QMU.  We will be evaluating the students experiences over the summer with a view to taking the module forwards.”

Notes to Editor

Aims of the Strategic Alliance

Working between the two organisations to be a dementia aware higher education institution.

Development of a strategic approach in the creation of sustainable learning opportunities in the undergraduate programme.

Development of a strategic approach to continued professional development developing sustainable Allied Health Professionals career pathways in dementia care. 

Information about Queen Margaret University

QMU has flagship areas of health and rehabilitation, sustainable business and creativity and culture. Like all our teaching and research, the work within our flagship areas is designed to be thoroughly relevant to the social and economic development of Scotland and countries across the world.

Work within our flagships areas tackles issues ranging from alcohol abuse to the development of healthcare systems across the world; and from providing dialogue tools which allow marginalised groups to have their voices heard, to giving people their voice more literally through innovations in speech therapy.

QMU – Health and Rehabilitation 

This flagship area is underpinned by our portfolio of health courses: we have the widest range of allied health professional courses of any university in Scotland. Our research is focused on policy and practice, and therefore has an immediate practical impact in terms of service delivery and patient care.

We have capitalised on our broad range of health courses to become leaders in interprofessional education. This ensures that our teaching and research reaches beyond the limits of professional boundaries, providing fresh insights and helping to ensure that healthcare professionals from different areas work together effectively with positive consequences for patient care.

We have the benefit of high-quality specialist facilities at our purpose-built campus including practical research laboratories, a nursing simulation suite, and working speech, audiology and podiatry clinics.

Information about Alzheimer Scotland

Alzheimer Scotland is Scotland’s foremost voluntary organisation working for people with dementia and their carers. It:

- speaks out for the rights and concerns of people with dementia and their carers;

- operates services on over 60 sites throughout Scotland providing practical services such as day, evening and weekend opportunities, home support and befriending and carers' support services;

- provides the 24 hour national freephone Dementia Helpline (0808 808 3000);

- supports the Scottish Dementia Working Group and the National Dementia Carers Action Network

- has a network of Dementia Advisors across Scotland;

- has a Specialist Dementia Nurse programme;

- publishes leaflets, booklets, reports and a quarterly newsletter keeping carers and professionals up-to-date;

For further media information contact Lynne Russell, Communications Manager, Queen Margaret University on E: , T: 0131 474 0000, M: 07711 011239, or Jon Perkins, Press and PR Officer on E:,  T: 0131 474 0000.

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