2015 National Dementia Essay Competition winners announced!

2015 National Dementia Essay Competition winners announced!

2015 National Dementia Essay Competition major prize winners
Prizewinners (from left): Giverny Witheridge, Shan Crosbie, Tracy Higgins, Joshua Southwell, Sakeenah Wahab, Andrew Shannon

Read the two first-prize winning essays here:

Australia’s first National Dementia Essay Competition attracted entries from undergraduate students from 26 universities, representing more than 20 different fields of study including pharmacy, medicine, communication and media, nursing, occupational therapy, creative writing, dementia care, psychology, physiotherapy, science, commerce, architectural design, dentistry, speech pathology, law and music/arts.

The Dementia Training Study Centres (DTSCs) invited second and third year undergraduate students enrolled in an Australian university to submit an essay explaining how their discipline could contribute to creating a dementia-friendly nation, with the aim of encouraging more university students to consider dementia care as a career choice. The competition was also supported by Alzheimer’s Australia and the Australian Journal of Dementia Care.

More than $7000 in prizes were shared by three second-year and three third-year students, including first-prize winners Giverny Witheridge and Shan Crosbie.

The other prize winners are:

Second year: Tracy Higgins, Bachelor of Nursing, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) (second prize $1,000) for Listen – learn – care – change: how the discipline of nursing in a primary health care setting can contribute to creating a dementia-friendly nation; and Sakeenah Wahab, Bachelor of Medicine, University of NSW (third prize $500), Connecting dots: doctors and community dementia care.

Third year: Joshua Southwell, Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Arts, ANU (second prize $1,000), for his essay Invisible patients: attending to dementia’s burden on caregivers by way of social marketing; and Andrew Shannon, Bachelor of Medicine, University of Newcastle (third prize $500), for The role of medicine in creating a dementia-friendly nation.

Tracy Higgins from UTS also won the ELERA prize for the best essay submitted by a nursing student. The prize is awarded in honour of the contribution of the nursing profession to the care and support of people living with dementia and their families and the donor’s parents, who had dementia in late life and were able to remain at home because of the extraordinary nursing care and support they received.

Wide interest

NSW/ACT DTSC Director Professor Richard Fleming said he was delighted the competition had more than fulfilled its objective by attracting entries from students in disciplines not traditionally associated with dementia care.

“Almost every profession has a role to play in creating dementia-friendly communities,” Professor Fleming said. “We hope these prizes will encourage the winners to keep the care of people with dementia in mind as they make choices about their careers.”

Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett said with dementia now the second leading cause of death in Australia it was imperative future generations learnt more about dementia, its causes and prevention and hopefully would, in their lifetime, celebrate a cure.

“We must treat all people living with dementia with respect and develop creative ways to build communities that empower people with dementia to live well, in their own communities, for as long as possible,” Ms Bennett said.

“The volume and quality of the entries demonstrates a genuine interest among the next generation of thought leaders in working towards a more dementia-friendly and inclusive society.”

The prizewinners

Giverny Witheridge said the competition had been an “invaluable learning experience”, allowing her to better appreciate the daily experiences of her grandparents as both caregivers and people living with dementia, as well as expanding her academic knowledge into other fields.

“…drawing on diverse perspectives will help achieve greater innovation and dynamism in [dementia] research, policymaking and care practices,” she said.

For Tracy Higgins, the competition was an opportunity to discover how she could be personally involved in creating a dementia-friendly nation.

“As a wife and mother, having ageing parents, recent employment experience at a medical practice and now a mature age registered nursing student, I thought I already had reasonable knowledge and understanding about dementia and its impact on society,” Tracy said.

“[However] in writing my essay … I firstly realised that I didn’t know or understand as much as I thought and secondly I have given more consideration to how I can be personally involved in creating a dementia-friendly nation, especially once I have completed my studies. …I have learnt that my involvement can come in many different forms from practical/clinical to research and education.”

Medical student Sakeenah Wahab said she now realised there was a need to create a dementia-care nation, “as opposed to [only] treating or improving patient management”.

“[When] I told my peers about the many existing community programs in place for dementia care I realised that, like me, few had heard of them, much less knew what they strived to do for people with dementia and carers. [As future medical practitioners] it was definitely an eye-opener and a learning experience for us all – something textbooks and coursework cannot teach us.”

Creative arts student Shan Crosbie said she learnt that the care of people with dementia should be seen as a societal responsibility, not just that of an individual carer or doctor. “All levels of society, from national institutions like the National Gallery of Australia through to individuals like myself, have the capacity to positively influence the lives of people with dementia and their carers”.

Joshua Southwell, a marketing and psychology major, said the competition gave students the incentive to “try their hand at generating and supporting ideas, as well as applying the theories and principles they learn about, potentially across a diverse array of fields”.

Medical student Andrew Shannon said he had studied the biomedical aspects of dementia but had “rarely encountered the ‘human side’ of the disease. I believe this experience will be of significant value throughout my career, not only for the knowledge I gained but also because it served as a reminder of the importance of approaching disease from a patient-centred perspective.”

The first 100 students who submitted an essay each received a complimentary one-year subscription to the Australian Journal of Dementia Care. The Schools of the winning students have also received a one-year subscription to the journal.