A Sunderland campaigner has been recognised in a national awards ceremony for her work transforming people’s perceptions of dementia and helping to improve patient care of the condition.

University of Sunderland Pharmacy graduate Emma Boxer has been named a Dementia Friends Champion of the Year finalist and runner-up in the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Awards 2019.

The awards celebrate and showcase the achievements of individuals, groups and organisations across the UK who have led the way on creating dementia-friendly communities and improving the lives of everybody affected by dementia.

The Dementia Friends programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia.

It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

Pharmacy graduate Emma carried out research at the University of Sunderland which found that targeting healthcare students before they enter professional practice could be the key to increasing high-quality care and greater understanding for dementia patients

Emma’s research was prompted after becoming a Dementia Friends Champion herself and hosting a series of successful awareness presentations on campus to pharmacy, public health, adult nursing and mental health nursing students.

Following the session she asked students to complete a survey to find out if their knowledge and understanding of dementia has improved and whether they felt it would benefit them and their patients when moving into practice.

Emma said: “It was really lovely to be involved in the awards, there are so many people doing such great work for the Alzheimer’s Society and I felt very privileged to be invited to join them for the day.

“It was really inspiring to hear about the work people have been doing this year, especially those who are living with dementia.

“I came away feeling more motivated than ever to keep going with my work surrounding dementia and I hope that my work with the university and patients in practice can help make a difference to people’s lives, even if it’s just a little.”

Andrew Sturrock, Principal Lecturer and Programme Leader of MPharm, said: “Emma is an excellent ambassador for the Dementia Friends initiative.

“She has worked hard to enhance the teaching of dementia across a range of healthcare programmes at the University, helping to prepare students to think about dementia differently and preparing them to entering professional practice.

“Emma is a fantastic role model to all of the healthcare students at the University, and we are delighted that she has been recognised for her achievements.

“We look forward to continuing to work with, and support this initiative further.”

Speaking earlier this year about her research, Emma, 23, said: “The results of my work were certainly enlightening and highlighted a significant increase in students’ knowledge surrounding dementia after the session.

“We concluded that Dementia Friends training has a place and improves knowledge across a range of healthcare courses.

“The results demonstrate that education could be used to improve dementia-friendly healthcare professionals.

“This also shows the importance and success of the Dementia Friends session, as in only a short time period there was such a significant change in student knowledge.”

Emma, from Washington, who graduated in July 2018, became an academic pre-registration pharmacist, spending her week split between a community pharmacy, Burdons in Whickham, Gateshead, and working as an academic tutor in the University of Sunderland’s Sciences Complex.

She became a Dementia Friends Champion after sitting in on a dementia session in the final year of her course.

She said: “It was a real eye-opener, learning not just about the science, but the personal impact the condition has.

“It gave me an understanding of how I might interact with dementia patients who I’m prescribing medication for safely and understanding their own anxieties and fears, rather than dismissing them. I wanted to roll out what I’d learned to others.

“In my session I use the example of a game of bingo to demonstrate and dispel some of the common myths around dementia, especially how patients’ perceptions can change. How to find solutions and help them live a better life.

“Contrary to popular belief, dementia is about more than memory loss, patients may also have issues with their speech, perception and motivation.

“This means that healthcare practitioners must be confident and competent to adapt their methods and consultation skills to ensure the best outcome for this patient group.”

Emma has submitted her research for publication and believes more research needs to takes place to assess the impact delivering these sessions have on patients, in relation to their interactions with healthcare professionals.

About Dementia Friends

Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme is the biggest ever initiative to change people’s perceptions of dementia.

It aims to transform the way the nation thinks, acts and talks about the condition.

Dementia Friends is about learning more about dementia and the small ways you can help, from telling friends about the Dementia Friends programme to visiting someone you know living with dementia

For more information go to: https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/