Talking To Your Children About Dementia

Dementia; It can be a really tough subject to talk about whatever your age and even more so when talking to small children about the subject.

I used to work as a HCA in a residential care home where most of its residents suffered from Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Everyday we saw our residents becoming lost and confused, families devastated and heartbroken and some tough decisions being made. My grandfather developed Dementia in the last few years of his life. He went from forgetting where he put the dog leads to not knowing who we were and suffering from the most awful hallucinations. Seeing a family member deteriorate so quickly can be heart breaking, especially when it feels like that there is nothing that you can do.

paintedpot

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and it’s abilities. This includes problems with:

  • Memory loss
  • Thinking speed
  • Mental ability
  • Language
  • Understanding
  • Judgement

Sufferers can become agitated, depressed, withdrawn and have problems controlling their emotions. People with dementia can also suffer from hallucinations, seeing and hearing things that are not really there. This can be traumatic for the sufferer and to those who witness the people having  the hallucinations.

Dementia can start as simple basic memory loss and confusion and it is important to take note if yourself, a friend or loved one starts to forget things more often. It can be easily missed in the early stages and dismissed as a ‘brain fog’ moment. If you suspect memory loss or confusion get the affected person to see a GP as soon as possible. Try not to be panicked as there can be other health problems that can mimic the early stages of dementia- water infections and depression for example.

Who Gets Dementia?

There are approximately 800,000 people living in the UK with dementia, and an estimated 36 million people worldwide. The population of the UK is growing fast, and our life expectancy is also rising. With more people living longer, pressures will only increase on the care sector, families and society when it comes to helping dementia sufferers. It’s currently Dementia Awareness Week (14th-20th May 2017) and you can find out more about this very special awareness week here.

Most people living with Dementia are over the age of 65, but sometimes a person who is younger can get dementia, but this does not happen very often. Most older people don’t get dementia, and just because a relative may have suffered from dementia it does not mean that you will.

Keep Active


Active Minds is a wonderful brand working with companies and charity organisations providing enjoyable activities for people living with dementia. They have been researching, designing and developing activity products to assist people living with dementia to help them lead an active, engaging and fulfilling life. People living in care homes can offer suffer from depression, boredom and loneliness. Seeing residents developing these problems can be awful to witness and many people struggle to understand how to ease these problems. Many care homes hire activity co-ordinators to work in the home, a wonderful and heartfelt job role, but it is often the families who would like to get more involved when it comes to making their relative’s elderly years more fulfilling.

Talking To Children About  Dementia

Many children will be very confused when it comes to trying to understand Dementia (heck, even adults can be confused by the subject!) making it even more important that we approach the subject with care, honesty and in a loving and often humorous manner. While it can feel strange making the subject of dementia a light hearted one, this is often the best way to teach children about something and even more so when it is about a sensitive and rather daunting subject.

With the help of Active Minds, I sat at the kitchen table and had a heartfelt chat with my kids about Dementia. I have 3 small children aged 5, 4, and 2. I only really expected the 5 year old to understand what I was talking to them about, but there is certainly no harm in making the subject a family activity, involving the smaller kids. We had a packet of Forget-Me-Not seeds on the table, lots of fun decorating items, a plant pot and a watering can to decorate. My plan was to talk about Dementia and how it can make people forget things- hence the Forget-Me-Not seeds! While the kids painted, splashed glitter across the table and argued over stickers I would engage in conversation about this tricky subject.

How we started our conversation…

Mummy (me)- Girls, when you were babies you couldn’t walk, talk, eat or go to the toilet. You had to learn how to do all of these things! I had to help you all lots. I still have to help you all sometimes, even though you’re getting bigger. You learn how to do things because your brain has to grow and remember how to do those things. Can you think of anything else that your brain helps you to do?

Willow- I have to remember things at school, like how to spell things properly. And I will have to learn how to tie my laces one day.

Olive- I need to learn how to ride a bike. I’ll need little wheels to help at first.

Ivy- *she’s sat painting… her brain is currently working on learning that important hand-eye coordination*

ivy painting

This is a fabulous conversation starter. You can talk about how our brains can remember lots and lots of things, mostly things we do in day to day life.

When tackling an emotional subject such as dementia, keep small children positive. Keep playing with them, whilst you discuss the subject. Painting our plant pots, was the perfect distraction, but kept them listening to me at the same time.

Me- Some older people get something called Dementia. It means that even though they learnt lots of things when they were younger, their brain starts to forget these things. These older people can find it hard to do things that they used to do when they were young.

Willow- Like going to the toilet?

Me- Exactly! Mummy used to work as a carer. I used to help look after people who had dementia. That meant helping people onto the toilet!

Olive- You help Ivy on the toilet.

Me- That’s right. I also had to help people eat their dinner, get dressed and play games.

Willow- Did you paint their nails?

Me- I did if they asked me to! It made them feel fabulous and pretty.

olive pot

When talking to small children, it helps to keep things short and sweet. Talking about something for too long can become boring and often stressful for the child, especially when discussing something so emotional.

Older children could work on extra activities about Dementia.Help them create a mind-map about all of the things that their brain has learnt, and how they would feel if they forgot how to do those things. Getting them to think about how it would feel to have Dementia, builds on compassion and understanding.

Think of activities that you could spend time doing, with a person who has Dementia. Active Minds has lots of wonderful activities that are specifically designed to help and engage with people who suffer from Dementia. Talking to a person with Dementia about the memories that you share together, play them their favourite music (I knew a lady who wouldn’t speak, but when she sat in her room and listened to her favourite music she would sing along to every word on the CD. That was all she would ever say.) Watch their favourite classic movie, play together with puzzles, board games or look through old photographs together. Even the most simple of activities can lift them from a dark place and make them feel normal again, even if just for a very short time. I used to do residents hair, nails and make up for the ladies, and I have been known to sit and discuss Navy boats and football with the boys!

My girls are now aware of Dementia and what it means, who it affects, how it makes sufferers feel and what we can do to help, all in very basic terms. I shall revisit the subject again in a few years and go pay a visit to my old colleagues with the kids, so they can go and meet (and have fun!) with some of the residents. I hope that my children never fear or feel embarrassed around people with Dementia. I hope that they will respect and show love to those who may be feeling alone and vulnerable when living with this condition.

How will you talk to your kids about Dementia? Do you have any fun activities that you love doing with those you love who suffer from Dementia? Let me know in the comments box!

We shall be planting our forget-me-nots and taking them to the local care home for the residents to enjoy!
We shall be planting our forget-me-nots and taking them to the local care home for the residents to enjoy!

The Importance Of Creating Space To Relax

We are due our 4th baby in just 20 weeks time, and we’ve heard the same piece of advice, time and time again- sleep as much as you can before the baby arrives because once the little bundle of joy is born, you will not be getting any sleep for a few years.

babyolive

This is, of course, a comic exaggeration, but the fact is that raising children is exhausting and takes up a lot of time. There is so much to do every day that it works out to be way more hours than a regular job where you are employed and go into an office for instance. While having children is the greatest joy anyone can experience in life, you will always need a break at one point or another. It may be that you should take a weekend away with your partner and leave your children with a friend or with the grandparents, or every once in awhile you should get a babysitter and go out for the evening. It does not need to be far, or at all extravagant. You could just go to a local restaurant or bar to relax for a few hours. It gives you something to look forward to and if you do not yet have children, you will not believe how much you miss adult conversation once you only have kids to talk to all day.

I must admit, we have only ever done this the once. It was one night away (and technically I was still working) to a hotel in Scarborough. We spent more time driving there than actually in the hotel. we did attempt to go to a gig for our anniversary but both myself and my husband fell really f***ing ill once we arrived at the venue. Massive fail. Over 5 years of kids, and only 1 night off. No wonder we are wrecks.

oxpasture coffee

Going out is one thing, but being able to relax at home is crucial too. When the little ones are asleep, it is time for you to start doing all sorts of other jobs that you still need to do. When they are at school or nursery, you can get things done, but when they get home, you have to keep them safe and entertained as well as helping them with homework, making food for them, and getting them washed and ready for bed as well as the endless pile of laundry and monotonous hovering. You have to find some time for yourself or else you will be overwhelmed. Feeling guilty about this is normal but you cannot do without it. Here are a few ways that you can make a space in your home where you can relax:

  • The reality of having children is that when they are born, you suddenly have to share your home with them. This means that they will get a room to themselves, as well as having space to play (and leaving their toys everywhere). You need a space that is all yours too though. A place to sit to watch television or talk to your partner is paramount. Since it’s for you, you should make it luxurious (such as indulging yourself by getting a brown chesterfield sofa). Open a bottle of wine and relax because you deserve it. I like to make sure that once the girls are in bed, the living room is tidied of toys and the days’ mess. I light candles and turn the main light off. We either watch TV or sit and read together. I often knit or crochet, while jay works on his next Airfix kit.
  • It is not just a comfortable room that you need though. Raising children is so hectic that you often find that you don’t have time to yourself. It is, therefore, important to set aside time each day for you and your partner. It may just be half and hour when you talk about what you did that day, or you could decide to watch an episode of a sitcom every night on Netflix. Either way, making it a habit that you stick to will ensure that you can still spend time with your loved one. We have some firm fave’s (if sitcom’s aren’t your thing) on Netflix, and I thoroughly recommended American Horror Story, Stranger Things, American Crime Story Breaking Bad and we’ve just started on The OA. You can read about my American Horror Story obsession here.

    AHS IS LIFE. Don't question me.
    AHS IS LIFE. Don’t question me.
  • Make your bedroom a place to chill without technology. Our days are constantly bombarded with tech. Computers in the office, smart phones attached to our hands 24/7, iPads during the commute and smart TV’s every evening. We took all technology out of out bedroom, and created a relaxing environment to sit back and read in. We do occasionally bring the laptop upstairs (for our Netflix binge) and eat snacks in bed but that is fine. It’s our child free, chill out time.