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Dominican Mental Health Activist Produces Documentary on Dementia to Raise Awareness

Photo of Dominican Dementia Advocate Rianna Patterson

Photo/Courtesy of Rianna Patterson

Rianna Patterson was devastated by the death of her grandfather who suffered from dementia. That loss impacted Rianna so deeply that in 2016, at the age of 18, she founded the Dominica Dementia Foundation in memory of her grandfather.

Building a Dementia-Friendly Community

Through the Dominica Dementia Foundation (DDF), Rianna aims to raise awareness of dementia, provide emotional support to families and caregivers, and facilitate research towards dementia in Dominica. She is also on a mission to drive inclusivity for persons with dementia in the community. The foundation has done this through social inclusion strategies such as hosting Dominica’s first World Alzheimer’s Month, hosting an elderly appreciation day event with the help of Miss Dominica pageant contestant, Jade Romain, and launching a social media campaign called “Time to Talk” day, which was introduced by the mental health social movement, Time to Change United Kingdom.

Supporting the families is a vital part of the work that Rianna does through the foundation. Under Patterson’s leadership, the Dominica Dementia Foundation launched a virtual support group during the pandemic. Many families in Dominica, the UK, and other countries reached out to the Foundation to find out ways that they could get support for family members stricken with dementia. The pandemic has made life tougher for family caregivers and created an urgent need. This youth-led organization is providing the support and solace they need during this difficult time.

Dementia Documentary

Patterson is currently working on a film project called ‘Dementia - The Island Journey'. The documentary will highlight the stories of the elderly and families affected by dementia in Dominica. It will also show people who are living and aging well with this mental illness and the holistic practices of the nature island. Moreover, the film will include elders’ perspectives and showcase the ‘live longer isle’ aspect of Dominica, as the island has many centenarians. Rianna told Unstoppable Yes You that although she wants to mainly focus on Dominica, she has plans to include other Caribbean countries in the film.

The DDF founder revealed that as much as her vision is promising, she has found it challenging to raise funds for the documentary because of the competition that lies in the film industry. Patterson has therefore turned to crowdfunding and other areas of financial support. She said the goal is $50,000 but if she scales down the project, something can be done with $5000-$7000.

“I’m hoping it’ll bring about lasting change and become a valued resource. I also want to use the film as a gateway to developing further awareness of dementia in Dominica and around the Caribbean. It would also be great to connect with other people in the region who are working for the same cause,” stated the advocate for dementia-affected persons. She disclosed that her plans for the Dominica Dementia Foundation are continual support for families and care homes on a larger scale by endorsing media campaigns and developmental research.

The film is in preproduction and will be filmed in Dominica in October. Patterson plans to distribute the film through dementia associations, private screenings, cinema, streaming platforms related to Caribbean cultures, and conferences that feature short films. “I want this film to have a global reach. I think films are a great way of storytelling. People of all ages can watch it. Obviously, regionally as well I want Dominicans to have access to and understand the importance of dementia,” stated Patterson.

Queen’s Young Leaders

An important milestone in Patterson’s life has been her selection as the 2017 Queens Young Leader. The Queen’s Young Leaders Program selects young people from across the Commonwealth, who are driving change in their communities. The winners are invited for a week-long residential placement at the end of which, there is a ceremony at Buckingham Palace where they receive a medal from the Queen. Being selected was a humbling experience for Patterson. She felt that it was a great way to not only represent Dominica, but also her values and her family. “Being a young leader means a lot to me because it gives me the opportunity to change lives,” said Patterson.

In addition to her responsibilities with the Dominica Dementia Foundation, Patterson, also works for a tech firm in England as a Kickstart Scheme Project Coordinator. Her role is to coordinate regular training, development, and support opportunities for young people to expand their skills to further their career growth.


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