Laura Booi with Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a member of the World Dementia Council and science advisor to the Cabinet of Japan, during the G8 Dementia Summit in Japan earlier this month.

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PhD student Laura Booi takes her message about dementia around the world

November 25, 2014
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By Diane Luckow

Laura Booi is loud, and proud of it.

A committed evangelist for increasing awareness and education about dementia, and decreasing the stigma associated with it, the SFU PhD candidate in gerontology has just returned from a speaking engagement in Japan.

She was first nominated by the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. to represent B.C. youth at a Canadian Young Leaders in Dementia Event held in Ottawa in September.

“I was one of the loudest people there,” she says. “I wrote the communiqué for the new World Dementia Council based on the young leaders’ summit event in Ottawa.”

As a result of her Ottawa participation she was then selected by the UK Science and Innovation Network to represent Canadian youth at the following G8 Dementia Summit in Japan earlier this month. Both events are two of four planned as a follow-up to the G8 Dementia Summit held in London last year, where UK Prime Minister David Cameron created the World Dementia Council.

The London summit brought together G8 ministers, researchers, charities and pharmaceutical companies, and resulted in a G8 commitment to establish an international effort for approaching the issue of dementia.

Booi will attend the final summit in Washington, DC in February 2015 and then hopes to represent youth at the World Health Organization’s first global dementia summit in March 2015.

Booi began her PhD at SFU in 2012. Despite funding to complete a PhD at UBC, where she earned an MA in health psychology, she chose SFU because of the gerontology program and the Gerontology Research Centre.

“I can’t say enough good things about the program so far,” she says. “It has been very nurturing for me.”

She plans to do her thesis on nursing-staff attitudes in care facilities.

“There’s very little research that has to do with front-line care providers and their perspective,” says Booi, whose family members are all front-line care providers. “But we do know that their attitudes are directly related to the quality of care provided.”

Booi, who holds a two-year $100,000 TVN Interdisciplinary fellowship, says that dementia is actually a feminist issue. TVN is an organization that aims to improve care for the frail elderly.

“Sixty per cent of people who get dementia are women, and the majority of front-line staff are also women, as are the family caregivers,” says Booi. “Yet 95 per cent of speakers and attendees at these dementia summits are men, with almost no youth attending.”

“We need to educate future generations,” she says. “It’s men who are having the discussions and making all the decisions based on their own perspectives.”

Booi’s TVN fellowship requires her to do an external internship. She leaves this month to spend one month in Bella Bella, B.C. to learn how this remote First Nations community cares for elders with dementia.

Booi plans a career in dementia advocacy, and already has a blog, dementiahealth.com. She volunteers with the Alzheimer’s Society of B.C. and is helping to roll out the organization's Dementia Friends’ Campaign, which promotes dementia awareness in communities.

“If I can continue to be an evangelist for dementia, then I’ll be super happy.”