Dementia, as anyone who has ever dealt with it knows, is anything but simple. The very complexity of it--and the fact that it's a catch-all term for a constellation of symptoms characterized by significant memory loss and a perceptible decline in cognitive skills--means that any creative work addressing the condition must, by implication, be willing to face the gravity of the situation.
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To write a joyfully illustrated, cheerful, welcoming picture book on the topic, with prose as graceful as a poem yet as unflinchingly straightforward as a recipe cannot have been simple.But Rix, an English journalist, broadcaster and writer I've long admired (and a friend from my university days at Cambridge) and her illustrator Christopher Corr have done exactly that in "Travels With My Granny," recently published by Otter-Barry Books and available at your local independent bookstore, through major outlets, and online.
Turn the TV off when you can and turn the conversation on where possible. And remember; loving them is easy, it’s rearing them that’s hard but it does get easier with practise.
"'There must be a way to help us all understand what happens during an episode when a elder seems to 'leave the room' for a period of time. Even those at an early age, children need a way to place the event in context which neither scares the child or nor reduces the adult," Rix explained in an email. "Even if the older person is distressed, you can speculate that something difficult is happening in their head, and they will soon be back. You can reassure them--and yourself--that it will be okay."
While “Granny can’t remember yesterday” at some moments, her grandchild knows that Granny nevertheless “knows all about the world.” At the moments when Granny seems to be elsewhere, she more or less is actually somewhere else: “Granny’s traveling” is what the child comes to understand. “Sometimes Granny gets ahead and I don’t know where she’s gone,” is perhaps the most poignant line in Rix's book. But rather than make such an absence unnerving, the child comes to learn that the places her grandmother goes can take her back to happier times and that she, the child, can hear stories and learn both about who her grandmother is now and about who she was once. A vital connection between family members can, by such exchanges, be enriched.
Having tackled the subject as a journalist, Rix was inspired to write a book for children. Along with talking to patients, their families and their caregivers, Rix consulted with Professor Clive Ballard, Dean of Exeter University Medical School and the U.K.’s Alzheimer's Society's former Head of Research.
Teach kids this bravery trick. Tell them to always notice the color of a person's eyes. Making eye contact will help a hesitant child appear more confident and will help any kid to be more assertive and less likely to be picked on.
Creating an entirely new vocabulary for ways to approach the times when a person living with dementia is removed from the immediate, and by presenting that as neither tragic nor frightening but as a glimpse of an alternative reality that should be dealt with calmly and with consideration, Rix’s work generously provides a new perspective that's useful for all of us who have loved ones (parents , neighbors, parents and companions) facing a future where dementia plays a part.
To be reminded of the human being who wandered, sang, danced and asked questions—now a person challenged by a difficult condition—is to be reminded of important memories containing joy, of adventure and of discovery.
It’s also a reminder, finally, to make certain our intertwined and multi-generational stories are celebrated.