Living with dementia magazine February 2012
Writing to keep well
As dementia progresses, it can have a negative impact on a person's interests, abilities and confidence. For John Batt, however, remaining creative and pursuing his interests is integral to his mental well-being as Luke Bishop discovers.
When John Batt was diagnosed with dementia, he was determined not to let it get in the way of his creativity. John, 76, had always enjoyed drawing, poetry and singing, and wanted to make sure that he kept these activities going despite his dementia.
He was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia in November 2008. However, he had noticed that something was wrong before that. He had started to lose interest in his bakery business, was having problems with his memory and was also starting to lose some of his inhibitions.
'I was losing track of everything and losing interest in everything, and it was affecting my business. My sons were noticing that I was different because I was doing silly things. When I was driving along I would start saying hello to people on the street and they found it embarrassing. I was starting to have blank spots as well when I couldn't remember.'
On receiving his diagnosis one of the first things he decided to do was to dust off his second-hand typewriter and put his life story down on paper. Writing his story over a fortnight, he found that recalling the ups and downs of his life helped him feel better.
In his life story he writes about an idyllic childhood in Barry Island, Wales, a traumatic move to London where he got involved in gangs and street crime, and his time in the army where he almost fought in the Korean War and later went to Kenya to fight against the Mau Mau Uprising.
'I loved being raised in Wales, it was very comfortable there. As an 11-year-old having to move to London it frightened the life out of me. When I joined the army I first went to fight in the Korean War, but by the time we got to Singapore it had finished so we were sent back.
'They then asked who wanted to volunteer to go to Africa and I went to Kenya for 18 months. It was lovely out there and I learnt to speak Swahili because I had a guide who couldn't speak English. I can still speak quite a lot of Swahili now. I know I will never go back there again but I do still love Kenya.'
Poetry is another of John's passions and, since being diagnosed, he has started to write more, inspired by his surroundings in Beccles, Suffolk. Because John can no longer spell very well due to his dementia, his wife Barbara often helps him.
'I find writing is very good for me. I might be sitting in my house one morning looking out of the window and if it's a lovely day I will want to write about it. If I go somewhere for a walk it's the little things that inspire me, like dogs playing or if there is ice in the water in the morning - it pushes into my mind.
'I do 'write silly' sometimes and I am losing my ability to spell but my wife is very good and she helps me with the writing when I need it.
'Keeping my mind active is definitely helping with the dementia. Sometimes I feel down, and writing and singing helps with that.
'I used to sing in pubs and singing is one of my favourite things. Now I just sing around the house and I remember most of the songs I used to sing, my memory is still with me that far. Sometimes my wife says I get the words wrong, but to me they are the right words.'
On top of the world
'The main thing for people with dementia is to accept what you have got and to try and meet different people who are feeling the same. If you feel down, it canreally help.'
For more about activities available for older people with dementia in your area, contact your local Alzheimer's Society services. For details, see alzheimers.org.uk/localinformation or call 020 7423 3500.