Posted by Beth Soltzberg
JF&CS recently launched Dementia Friends Massachusetts, a public awareness program that is part of a global movement to change the way people talk, act, and think about dementia. JF&CS trains volunteer “Champions” across Massachusetts to lead hour-long Information Sessions in their community. We talked with one of these Champions, rising high school junior Maggie Chiffer in Topsfield.
Why did you decide to become a Dementia Friends Champion?
I became involved with dementia awareness and education through my Girl Scout Gold Award Project, Dance Out Dementia: Train Your Brain with the Beat of Your Feet. I teach dance classes to members of my local Council on Aging, and I also wanted to educate my community about dementia.
You have led Information Sessions for your high school classmates. How did they respond to this topic?
They were genuinely interested. Many of them have family members with dementia. I think it will allow them to empathize with older people in general, and help to bridge that gap between younger and older generations by breaking down the stereotypes surrounding dementia.
Tell us about the next step that you took: asking your high school administration to make Dementia Friends part of the health curriculum.
After learning so much about dementia through my Gold Award and becoming a Dementia Friends Champion, I felt that it was my responsibility to pass down the knowledge I had gained to the rising generation. Dementia is not just a concern for older people, and it is important for people of all ages to be thinking about brain health, as changes to the brain begin to occur many years before a diagnosis is made.
In order to get my school administration’s agreement, I had to present my proposed addition to the Comprehensive Health Curriculum to my health teacher. My teacher then took my proposed addition to the rest of the School Board. The Board was very receptive, and agreed to include this information in the Health Curriculum. The administration was surprised to learn about the number of people living with dementia and its global impact, and were happy to be providing this information to students.
Is there anything you’d like people to know about the importance of this issue for people your age?
I hope for a world in which those of younger and older generations understand the struggles that each generation faces. Everyone is at risk of getting dementia, so older people and younger people can unite around this issue.
To learn more about Dementia Friends Massachusetts, please visit www.dementiafriendsma.org or contact Beth Soltzberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781-693-5628.