A calendar designed to help keep track of dates as dementia progresses

From the October/November 2015 issue of our magazine, we hear how a calendar designed to help one person is benefiting many others.

Keith and Val Horncastle

Keith and Val Horncastle with their first calendar

Val Horncastle, 73, has always had a busy life but as her Alzheimer's progressed she found it increasingly difficult to recall what she was meant to be doing or even what day it was.

Her husband Keith says, 'Val was always very active with the University of the Third Age, her book club, gardening and going to concerts, plays and festivals but shortly after she was diagnosed three years ago she found she was having difficulty with days and dates.

'She asked me if there was anything I could do to help her. I remembered about those day-to-day calendars where you tear off the date, but we thought we really needed something where you could include what was happening on any given day.

'I looked around various stationers but I really couldn't find anything to fit the bill.

'Then one day at the supermarket Val wandered off like she normally does, only to come running back a few minutes later waving a spiral notebook saying, "Look at this, we could make our own calendar!"'

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Simple idea

Although Keith, 73, wasn't completely convinced at first, the couple found it relatively easy to turn this simple idea into a useful memory tool.

Keith, a retired administrator, says, 'I entered the date and day on each page, leaving space for events, appointments and anniversaries.

'The notebook could stand up and I turned it over at the end of each day. It was like a stand-up diary and each notebook could hold two months.

'Val loved it as she didn't have to keep asking me what was happening each day. And after a while she said, "If this has helped me, don't you think it could help other people?"'

The couple took their prototype calendar to the Memory Café in Buxton, and Alzheimer's Society staff there suggested that Keith could try to get the calendar produced commercially.

Brainwave

Keith was unsure about whom to approach, but then had a brainwave.

'We had a calendar of Oxford on our wall produced by publisher Chris Andrews. I phoned him up and told him what we wanted to do.

'He asked us to send him a copy of the makeshift calendar I had produced and he said "leave it with me, I will see what I can do".'

Keith and Val were thrilled when Helen O'Connor, Dementia Support Service Manager for Derbyshire Alzheimer's Society, phoned to say she had heard about the calendar and wanted to pilot the product in the county.

With funding from the Duke of Devonshire's Charitable Trust, 500 calendars went out free to people with dementia in Derbyshire at the end of 2013.

There was such an amazing response that the Memory Calendar 2016 is now available to all through the Society's online shop.

Keith and Val Horncastle with Chris Andrews

Keith and Val with publisher Chris Andrews

Fantastic difference

People who have used the new calendar say it has made a fantastic difference. Some carers say their loved ones are now able to read where they are about to go and it jogs their memory about where they have just been.

They say it provides information so people don't have to keep asking others what day it is, users like the large format and many say it is a useful reminder about appointments.

Keith says, 'I was very surprised the calendar was received so well.

'We knew it was helpful to us, as Val could see at a glance exactly what we were doing each day, but we didn't necessarily know if other people would find it useful.'

Well they certainly did. Helen says, 'People said to us the calendar was easy to read, they liked that there was space to write something in, and carers told us it helped to orientate people and remind them of what they had been doing.'

Although there was no additional cash to launch the project, Chris offered to develop and produce 1,000 calendars at his own expense and then donate any profits to Alzheimer's Society.

Helen says, 'Chris had already seen the impact the trial calendar had made and said, "I'll take a punt on this if it is going to help". He's just a very lovely fella.

'We talk a lot about helping people with dementia to live well, but this story shows us how someone with dementia can help themselves and other people too.'

The Horncastles are delighted their vision has become reality.

Keith says, 'Val's first aim was to help people. If the calendar makes money for Alzheimer's Society it couldn't be better, as we will be able to pay them back for all the help they have given us.'

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Something to focus on

Keith says life has become more challenging as Val's dementia has advanced, but they are trying to keep things as normal as possible for as long as they can.

'Val is unsteady on her feet and gets very tired now so we struggle to go to all the events we used to, but we still get enjoyment out of life and have our good days.

'The calendar was great for us because it was something to focus on after the diagnosis.

'Val has an insight into her condition and understands what is happening to her, but the idea for the calendar was all hers and coming up with it gave her a real sense of pride.

'Trying to help other people – especially if they are disadvantaged – is part of Val's personality. She has never been just about herself and is still the same caring, committed person she always was.

'People with dementia can still have ideas that are helpful. All they need is someone to listen to them and give them that opportunity to make a difference.'

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