Many have asked me what prompted me to write and produce the video "Poppy's Head" ?it is such a departure from my usual writing which concentrates on commercial screenplays and stage plays. "Poppy's Head" is made for the information of teenagers who may have a parent or grandparent in the household who is suffering from dementia, particularly of the Alzheimer's type.

You would be surprised how many teenagers come into early contact with dementia. They themselves get confused and resentful of the condition because they don't understand it. I had been involved with dementia during 25 or so years that I volunteered firstly with the Alzheimer's Disease Society in England and later as President of Alzheimer's Association of New South Wales in Australia. Sitting through the years on various committees ?especially Public Relations and Publicity - I was in a position to identify an information gap. There was plenty of material available for adult carers but precious little aimed at the younger members of the family. I made up my mind there and then to make a video that would hold the attention of school students between the ages of 11 and 15.

With my knowledge of screenplay writing and a need to hold the attention of young people while they learn a little about what seems to them a very alien subject, I decided to do the thing in the form of a short drama with a gentle message. The video runs just 21 minutes and comes with information sheets to guide teachers or parents through classroom or home discussion after viewing. My target audience was schools from Year 6 through Year 10 but I was surprised when Nursing Homes began to ask for copies so that they could use them for family counseling.

Feedback from families and teachers has been good. Many have been looking for just such a tool to enable them to broach a delicate subject. The need for an early understanding of dementia is growing daily as drug abuse and AIDS spread to epidemic proportions. Most teenagers do not know that drug abuse and AIDS are known causes of dementia, nor that dementia has very similar effects no matter what causes it. "Poppy's Head" can point to discussions about AIDS and drug abuse induced dementia and such discussions can add to the main subject because teenagers can relate to them.

I have deliberately included School Bullying as an issue in "Poppy's Head" as well as Teenage Depression. They are strongly tied to the main plot and can also be discussed in the school room after viewing.

How did I get involved with dementia? My story is the same as that of most of the people who volunteer to work with various charities: personal experience. My mother developed Alzheimer's and suffered it through 12 dreadful years, steadily worsening until she finally entered the extreme phase of the condition and died from it. My father was the main carer, looking after her at home until the end at terrible cost to his own health. My sister and I both helped out when we could, but I was living abroad and could only visit for some months at a time. The awful realization that I could not help as much as I wanted to led to my work with the Alzheimer's organizations. Guilt can be a powerful tool for good!

Raising the money to do the video was an uphill task. I could not interest any of the government funding bodies ?try though I did for ages. Finally I got a small grant from Parke Davis and another from the Alzheimer's Association of NSW. These were not enough to pay more than one tenth of the costs involved so I approached all my friends and several of them made me loans. I was determined to do this video no matter what and was lucky that most of the people on the technical side did the job at vastly reduced rates because they believed in the video's aims. Without the cooperation of these people there would have been no "Poppy's Head". Have I recouped my costs? No and I probably never will. Am I sorry I did it? Never. It was an uplifting experience to work with so many kind and good people and one that I will never forget.

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Author's Bio: 

Barb Angell
Angell Productions Pty Limited