Brain Sciences


Q&A with Dementia MSc student and filmmaker Rianna Patterson

Rianna Patterson is a student in the Dementia: Causes, Treatments and Research (Mental Health) MSc at UCL. She has made a documentary film exploring dementia and its impact in the Caribbean.

Rianna V2

Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing in Dominica? 

Growing up in the Commonwealth of Dominica was paradise on earth. In my free time I went by the beach with friends or picked mangoes in my grandparents' backyard. For the most part, I really enjoyed my childhood. I was raised by my grandparents and my mum. We attended church together. I understood my culture from a very young age because it was celebrated nationally. Wearing madras print to school and eating crab callaloo on Creole Friday is what we did. My upbringing was community-centered and everyone looked out for each other. You couldn't really go a day without talking to someone.

What course are you studying at UCL and why did you choose this? 

I am currently studying Dementia: Causes, Treatments and Research (Mental Health) MSc at UCL. I chose this degree as UCL provides a culturally diverse and multidisciplinary environment with international leaders in ‌dementia. This degree also covers all elements of dementia which is uncommon in academic programmes. A highlight has been taking part in clinical sessions at Queen’s Square, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, which is well renowned for groundbreaking work in dementia. I believe studying this master’s degree will be a key next step in my career in dementia.

What is your motivation in learning more about dementia? 

My interest in dementia began at 16 when my grandfather passed away with dementia in Dominica. I would spend my time at the hospital with my grandfather. This experience highlighted to me the lack of understanding of dementia in public health facilities, cultural stigma towards dementia, the lack of access to support for young carers and insufficient research and resources for treatments for dementia.  

At 18, I founded a youth-led dementia charity in 2016 called the Dominica Dementia Foundation in memory of my grandfather, with aims and objectives planned by personal experiences. This initiative strengthened my passion for this area as we worked closely with families and spent time with people living with dementia at care homes. I saw how their faces lit up as they remembered songs from their childhood. It is truly one of the greatest feelings in the world

Rianna conducts an interview

Can you talk to us about your documentary – what is it about and why did you create it? 

I wanted to share stories of elders in the Caribbean, to tackle ageism in the media.  

The film focuses on dementia, culture, and my personal journey in creating an impact in the lives of older people in the Caribbean, with contributing islands such as Dominica, Anguilla and Barbados. I wanted to highlight aging and living well in a cultural context. I believe that the media is a powerful tool that can have an effect on our beliefs and perspectives, one being mental health and ageism. I wanted to highlight and celebrate the elderly, create a realistic as well as a youthful approach to older people in the media. I will explore holistic treatments for dementia and engage in traditional dances in a quest to understand the recipe for the meaning of quality of life. There is so much more to someone who has dementia, to alternative therapies for dementia that is not amplified in the media.  

What impact would you like your film to have? 

I would like my film to inspire the audience to take action for dementia, to share resources learnt in the documentary with a family member that is living with dementia.  

Another aim of the film is to challenge the perspectives of people working in journalism, to amplify mental health stories that are not stigmatised or biased to their own views.  

I’m hoping that the documentary will have a global reach. It has already been selected for film festivals in the Caribbean (Grenada and Guyana). I made this film with the community in mind. I would like other cultures to view this film; although it is based around the Caribbean region, the resources and insights are cross-cultural.

Rianna BTS photo

What are your ambitions for the future? 

My vision is to reduce the impact of dementia in black and global majority communities, promoting the importance of intergenerational and cultural difference in policy, research and practice around dementia care, in both institutional care and in the community on a global scale. 

I’m hoping to continue to create psychosocial interventions for people with dementia by conducting further research into dementia through the Dominica Dementia Foundation, as I have an interest in both mental health and neuroscience.  

Leading on global health challenges, especially those in developing countries, to improve the quality of care for people with dementia. My career goals involve also exploring further education (PhD level) to become a chartered psychologist, which is widely recognised as the highest standard of psychological knowledge and expertise. This will allow me to apply for specialised research roles in dementia.

The film is set for general release in late 2024. You can watch the trailer below.

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