Northern Ireland

Dementia friends across the generations

School pupil plays Connect 4 with a resident
Image caption Pupils from Rainey Endowed spend time every week with the residents of Milesian Manor in Magherafelt

"My granny put a cottage pie into the cupboard instead of the fridge."

It's memories like this which have led Jessica McKee and her classmates from Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt to form friendships with men and women who have dementia.

The year 12 students are trained before they become dementia friends with residents at Milesian Manor care home.

Figures from the Alzheimer's Society show that nearly 20,000 people live with dementia in Northern Ireland.

The teenagers have found that a skills swap, involving things like knitting and social media, is a good way for both groups to relax and learn something from the other.

Image caption In the wee bunny hole, round the big tree, back round the bunny hole and off comes she...

Jessica and classmate Courtney Rowe try to get to grips with their knitting needles - under the keen eye of 91-year-old Lula.

As their needles bob and the stitches are made, Lula remembers a rhyme she was taught during her own childhood to help her learn to knit.

"In the wee bunny hole, round the big tree, back round the bunny hole and off comes she..."

Jessica explains that she wanted to become involved with the project because of her granny's experience with dementia.

"It is sadly the main memory I have of her," she said.

"I remember being extremely confused about why she did certain things.

"I always remember her ringing my mum at 2am because she was so disorientated and confused.

"She passed away earlier this year."

Image caption Mark Coyle helps Albert get to grips with modern technology

Jessica said the dementia friends project was the perfect way for her to learn more about the illness and has reinforced a desire to pursue a career in the caring professions.

Courtney said that while learning to knit is an added bonus, she's gained a deeper understanding of dementia.

"I've learned to be patient, because when you come here you don't always get to do what you plan to do and I've learned to be more sympathetic towards those with the illness because of the knowledge I've gained from this," she said.

Across the room, Mark Coyle is trying to show Albert how to send a photograph via email.

The old photo of Albert and his wife acts as a bridge to another world.

Originally from the United States, Albert gently keeps Mark going as they chat about his life in New York City, saying he'll have to visit as it is "where all the pretty girls are".

Image caption The pupils receive some training before they spend time with the residents

As well as giving the students a sense of purpose, demystifying ageing and dementia, the older people gain from the experience as well.

According to Cara Macklin, director at Milesian Manor, the residents really look forward to the visits.

"They love that they know something the school children don't, that they can teach them something," she said.

"A lot of them really enjoy reminiscing - and they enjoy being cool and learning the iPad, then they can show their own grandchildren.

"You can really see the relationships being built and the confidence growing."

Image caption Teacher Mark McCullough said it was important for pupils to be an active part of the community

Teacher Mark McCullough said "giving back" is part of a long tradition at Rainey Endowed School.

"Everybody talks about results, achieving and standards and we want our pupils not only to have that but, to have a holistic education so that they are able to talk to the people who are in this home and in other areas."

As for Mark Coyle, he said he's learned something important from his time at Milesian Manor.

"Older people have a lot of good memories," he said.

"I've learned a lot more respect for people with dementia and I'll be a lot more tolerant.

"At the end of the day, we're all just people, dementia doesn't change that."