Juliet Rix’s new illustrated book Travels with my Granny offers a simple way for children to understand dementia. Here, she explains the concept and what she hopes it can achieve.
The children are talking in excited voices. They’re telling me about the places they have travelled, where their relatives live, and what they know about the city in the colourful pages of the book I have open in front of me. I am reading them my children’s book, Travels with my Granny.
For the kids it is first a book about amazing places. But sitting just beyond them is a circle of grown-ups and I can see in their eyes that they are hearing something different. They’re hearing something the kids will get on a second reading, or after a chat with the grown-ups.
A child-friendly explanation
In the book, Granny’s legs won’t carry her much further than the door, but her room is full of souvenirs from earlier adventures. With these reminders, she continues to ‘travel’- in her mind – taking her curious grandchild with her. They’ve been to Delhi, London, Rome and New York.
The grown-ups in the story think Granny is confused and doesn’t know where she is, but her grandchild sees it differently: “I think Granny knows exactly where she is; it just isn’t where the grown-ups are”.
Through Granny’s travels, the book helps children begin to understand why someone with dementia might behave quite strangely. And it offers parents a simple, child-friendly way of explaining: ‘Perhaps (s)he’s travelling. I wonder where (s)he is today?’
It even works if the person is angry or distressed: ‘Oh dear, it looks like something difficult is happening where they are. I expect they’ll be back here soon and it will be OK.’
It’s gratifying that after the reading, several parents tell me how much they needed this book and how pleased they are to have it.
Travelling with Granny
I am extremely fortunate (and increasingly unusual) in not having anyone with dementia in my immediate family (yet). But, like everyone I know, I have many friends who do. It became clear to me that with 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and numbers rapidly rising, even young children need a way to understand it.
Changes in an adult’s behaviour can be frightening for a child and difficult for adults to explain. I wanted this book to show the benefits of not contradicting Granny, allowing her the space to mentally ‘travel’.
The idea of Granny travelling grew in particular from one elderly gentleman’s story. He looked after his wife who had dementia, and he told me that the carers who popped in nightly to help with the physical process of getting his wife to bed, didn’t understand her. She often became distressed when they were undressing her, he said, before adding;
‘Well, you would get distressed wouldn’t you, if someone tried to undress you while you were standing outside on a bridge?’
Well, yes, I would. And I’m guessing you would too. Which is why, given the numbers of us likely to end up with dementia, it is in all our interests to help our children become a dementia-friendly generation.
I am now looking for a way to get a copy of Travels with my Granny into every care home and primary school.
Simple and un-scary
If nothing else, I want the book to be a really simple, un-scary starting point for discussion that’s respectful of people with dementia and positive for the child.
Travels with my Granny encourages kids to engage with older relatives. Importantly, it’s also general enough that it’s not just for children who already have a relative with dementia; it is for all children.
I sincerely hope that anyone who grows up with Travels with my Granny will never try to undress me or anyone else while we are standing on a bridge – or snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef or dining up the Eiffel Tower - however much we may appear to be sitting in our bedrooms.
- Travels with My Granny by Juliet Rix, illustrated by Christopher Corr, is published by Otter-Barry Books.
Talking to children and young people about dementia
Read our guide to talking to children and young people about dementia.