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New children’s book explores dementia

Published on 12 September 2018 02:36 PM

Travels with My GrannyDementia is often difficult enough for adults to comprehend, but what about younger people? Journalist and author Juliet Rix has written an excellent new book, Travels with My Granny, to help explain what can be a confusing topic for children. “I’m fortunate not to have dementia in my immediate family,” she tells us, “which is exceptional, as so many people do.”

Impactful words

A few years ago, Juliet was conducting interviews for an article about a new system for visiting people at home, particularly older people and those with chronic conditions, to avoid them having to go into hospital. In preparation for the piece, she visited a couple in their eighties, a woman with dementia and her husband who acted as her primary carer. The man was explaining about his wife’s condition, and the fact that a couple of carers came to help with some of the more physical tasks he was unable to do, such as getting her up in the morning or getting her ready for bed, which often upset her.

“He said to me, ‘You would get upset, wouldn’t you, if someone tried to undress you while you were stood on a bridge?’” recalls Juliet. “Those words really stuck with me, that idea of a dementia patient feeling they’re somewhere else, and therefore becoming distressed by what’s happening to them. It made me think about that, to an outside observer, someone with dementia might appear to be behaving very strangely, but to the person with dementia, what they’re doing may have perfectly good internal logic.”

A difficult subject for young minds

In recent years, Juliet had started writing for children, and decided it would be a good idea to write something about living with dementia, to explain to children what’s going on. “If an adult is behaving weirdly, that’s quite frightening to a kid. But if you can understand that the person might be someone else, it’s a bit like daydreaming, and we all do that. If you can understand it like that, it stops being so scary, and you can learn to talk to people.”

The resulting book, which features vibrant illustrations by Christopher Corr, is a colourful story acting as an all-purpose way to explore dementia with the very young. The book focuses on the idea of travelling somewhere else to explain what people with dementia are going through. Here’s a little summary: Granny's legs won't carry her much further than the door, but she still travels. And sometimes she takes her grandchild with her. The grown-ups think Granny doesn't know where she is, but grandchild thinks Granny knows exactly where she is, it just isn't where the grown-ups are...

“What I’m hoping is when you read this book with your kids, then when you come across someone who has dementia, who’s confused and behaving in an otherwise inexplicable way, be it in your own family, a neighbour or someone in the local supermarket, you can say to your child that ‘maybe he or she is travelling, I wonder where they are today?’”

Positive reactions

The book has garnered praise from experts in dementia. “Such a gentle, positive and fascinating way of introducing a child to dementia, this will prove valuable to so many families,” says Tessa Gutteridge, Director of YoungDementia UK. “A really positive way of educating children about dementia – great!” is the verdict of Clive Ballard, Alzheimers Society former Head of Research, and now Dean of Exeter University Medical School.

“As well as helping children to understand, I also hope kids have fun reading it because it’s about lots of places in the world and the nice relationship between a granny and a child,” says Juliet.

Travels with My Granny is out now via Otter-Barry Books.

Caring for someone with dementia

Looking after a friend or relative with dementia can be very challenging. Our tips and advice are here to help you through these difficulties.

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Last updated: Jan 27 2020

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