Words by Abi Scaife
For many, 18 is simply the age at which you experience university, new jobs, legal drinking and newfound independence. For Rianna Patterson though, it was the age to accomplish something a little different - founding her own charity.
“I was inspired by my grandfather,” Rianna tells Smiley News. “He passed away from dementia when I was 16. Ever since I've been working in this space and advocating for people with dementia.”
At 18, Rianna founded the Dominica Dementia Foundation in Picard, St John, Dominica. It’s a youth-led dementia charity, helping to support those who have been diagnosed with dementia and their loved ones.
Seeing the pain her grandfather went through, and how difficult the change was for her family, Rianna believed there was more that could be done. This belief was solidified when she watched the way her grandfather and other dementia patients were treated by hospital staff.
“Around the time when he had the diagnosis, there was a lot happening. I was 16 and transitioning from high school to college. A lot of my time was spent in the hospital,” explains Rianna. “I'd be studying for exams in the hospital so I could spend time with my grandfather.”
“And there was a lot of things that I observed, like restraining patients. I guess it was because they were understaffed or something like that, but the restraints they were using … it wasn't ethical. There are proper restraints that you can get, but they didn't have access to that.”
It was this that made Rianna want to get involved in the dementia care sector - she knew that she couldn’t let this carry on, and needed to make a change.
When she founded the Dominica Dementia Foundation, Rianna’s aim was to support people who were suffering from dementia and their families - to provide them with emotional support, as well as medical care.
“The family support was really important during that time and my heart goes out to people that don't have family. [Because] if you don't advocate for [the patient], then things won't get sorted out,” explains Rianna. “My frustrations are what allowed me to create a space where people can talk, because it can be quite isolating. Because you want the best care for your family members, but they can only get it from medical support - and then when medical support is not really what it's supposed to be, it does more harm than good.”
So, the Dominica Dementia Foundation was born - and to date, they have made a huge impact on the dementia community in Dominica, even stepping in to help when the island was hit by Hurricane Maria.
“We've done a lot of crisis management,” says Rianna. “When Dominica was affected by Hurricane Maria, we were able to get a grant from the Queen's Commonwealth Trust, which allowed us to support all the care homes affected by dementia.”
“We've impacted about 500 families [through] care homes and referrals, and we've also got the Dominica Dementia Friends programme, which allows us to increase the knowledge of dementia in communities.”
The Dominica Dementia Foundation has just been one step on Rianna’s journey. Within a year of receiving funding from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, Rianna was also awarded the Queensland leaders award by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Since then she has gone on give a talk at TEDxUniversityofKent, and speak at multiple different conferences about dementia and the impact it has on humanity.
Today, Rianna is continuing to help people in her community whose lives are being disrupted by the condition, while also fundraising to begin a Master's degree in dementia. Rianna hopes that the degree will help her tackle the incredible medical challenge that is dementia even more, working towards a world where no one suffers the way they do today because of this condition.
“I definitely want to contribute as much research as possible to dementia in Caribbean communities because there's a gap there that needs to be filled. There's not enough resources that help the families understand dementia and understand how to support some of dementia,” says Rianna. “I just want the world to be dementia friendly. That is my purpose, goal and mission.”
You can support Rianna and her campaign by donating to her GoFundMe, and helping her fund her Masters degree in dementia.
At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.
Dementia UK. This is a charity that provides Admiral Nurses for families affected by dementia, to help support those in need. Find out more here.
Alzheimer’s Research UK. Alzheimer's Research UK are the UK's leading Alzheimer's research charity aiming to find a cure for dementia. Learn how to support them here.
Alzheimer’s Society. They are working towards a world without dementia, and are giving help to those living with dementia today, and providing hope for the future. Learn more here.