Storybook: Travels With My Granny by Juliet Rix
- Credit: Archant
A West Hampstead journalist creates a globe trotting Granny to take the gloom out of dementia
Explaining a complex illness like dementia to a child can be daunting – especially when it concerns the behaviour of a beloved grandparent.
West Hampstead journalist Juliet Rix has come up with a colourful picture book to help youngsters understand why a loved one may be physically present - but mentally elsewhere.
In Travels With My Granny (Otter-Barry Books £11.99), a child accompanies a grandma who once travelled all over the world but can now only journey through her memories, helped by all the fascinating objects in her room.
Rix says the seed for this touching, positive story of a grandma sharing her treasure trove of knowledge was planted “a long time ago”.
“I did an article about an elderly couple. She had dementia and he was her primary carer. He was talking about the carers who came in to help and said: ‘They don’t understand dementia or why she sometimes gets distressed when they are undressing her. But you would get distressed too if you thought you were standing on a bridge naked’.
“That image stuck with me.. People with dementia are often somewhere else in their heads but in this case the carers kept going because they hadn’t the time or understanding to deal with it.”
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With 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, Rix adds: “There’s a good chance children will come across it maybe in their own family or a through a neighbour or a friend.”
“Adults need a simple way of giving them an understanding of why an older person may be behaving oddly, which can be quite scary for a child.”
Christopher Corr’s vivid imagery transports readers to Delhi, Rome, Jerusalem and New York.
“Increasingly experts are saying we don’t always need to contradict someone who thinks they are someone else,” says Rix. “Allowing them to be where they are when it doesn’t matter is ok. For me the key moment is when the grown ups think Granny is confused and doesn’t know where she is, and the child says: ‘I think she knows exactly where she is, she just isn’t where the grown-ups are.’
“There is also the idea that we can’t always go with them and sometimes we won’t have any idea where they are.”
The word dementia is never used but Rix hopes the book can be “a useful tool for adults” to start talking about a loved one’s behaviour.
“They can say maybe she’s travelling, I wonder what she is doing in her head, hopefully she will be back soon.’ I hope it gives children an explanation and a way of dealing with it which is respectful of the older person living with dementia, not pitiful.”
Rix says dementia is too often is overlaid with sentiment or gloom.
“I wanted the book to be cheerful not depressing and for the pictures to be vibrant and colourful. It’s saying ‘you can get something good out of this too’.
“A lot of people with dementia don’t remember yesterday or 10 minutes ago, but their memories of the distant past can be really good. We can encourage children to talk about the things they do remember and want to talk about.”