A Loving Perspective on Dementia-- for Children and Adults

"It is a very simple idea, really" wrote Juliet Rix, explaining the premise of her new book on dementia . "It gives people an easy and genuinely inclusive way of making dementia comprehensible when talking to children about those close to them who are suffering from the disease."

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.

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.

Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and includes texting of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.

"'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.

Discover the Internet together. Be the one to introduce your child to the internet. For both parent and child, it is an advantage to discover the internet together. Try to find websites that are exciting and fun so that together you achieve a positive attitude to internet exploration. This could make it easier to share both positive and negative experiences in the future.

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.

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.