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.


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Sufferers can become agitated, depressed, withdrawn and have problems controlling their emotions.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!

2 Big Decisions And The Environment

I honestly still sometimes feel that I am not yet an adult. Despite being 28 this year with 4 kids, a husband and a working household. I just want to play with Tamagotchi’s and read Jaqueline Wilson books.

Every adult has to make all sorts of decisions, and each one has an impact on something or someone, not least yourself. It is estimated that adult makes about 35,000 ‘remotely conscious’ decisions a day. That’s a lot of decisions. Ice-cream or Wispa bar? The extent to which they are conscious does not depend so much on how many hours sleep you got last night because your baby was crying, but more on whether the person making the decision is doing so with some self-awareness or whether it is subconscious. However, most of these decisions will not be life-changing.

If you are deciding whether to buy a chocolate bar on an impulse at a supermarket checkout, the worst that can happen is that you will take on a few calories. Sometimes though, the decisions that you have to make and live with are important. As a parent, your decisions could seriously affect your children so considering them carefully is imperative. This is especially true if you are concerned about the environment too. My readers would know by now how passionate I am about living a simple, eco-friendly and frugal life. It has become my dedication, to teach my children how to excel at this style of living.

In that case, things that would seem otherwise minor can take on a greater significance. While it is difficult to acknowledge, dropping litter can seriously hurt all sorts of creatures. A particularly unpleasant example is a whale which was found beached in Norway. It had 30 plastic bags in its stomach (warning: unpleasant images) which scientists said could have made it difficult to digest food as well as causing pain. Another very real reason to ditch plastic from our lives. I hate it when I see people dropping litter and it seriously bugs me when it’s kids that do it in front of their parents, when the parents then just ignore the issue. Sure, kids do silly things but it is our job as parents to teach them right from wrong.


Home Sweet Home…

Helping the environment is something that people need to do all the time and with regard to every decision, after all we only have this one planet, and whatever we do will affect our lives, our children’s lives and their kids to come. Some of the biggest decisions that a person makes are not exempt from this. If you are looking at new homes, you may be wondering how to go about making the most environmentally friendly decision. Well, you are already doing quite well. New homes are more energy efficient than homes built less recently. Many new properties will also already be fitted with things like double glazed windows and insulation which prevent heat from escaping, which necessitates you spend less on burning fuel, which means there is a lesser demand on the industry that retrieves those fuels from the earth, polluting it in the process. Not only that, you will save money too.

BUT, there are 2 sides to this. Many new homes are being built across the UK, most of us will know of a new development a mere stones-throw from our own homes. Eco-systems, homes for wildlife, nature spots, flood plains and our beautiful green-and-pleasant land is being replaced by concrete and rubble. Sadly it seems that more green space is being built on rather than brown sites, and many towns and villages are loosing their green doorstep right before their eyes.

I am passionate about helping people understand that their homes are the best place to start their journeys to save the planet. You can easily keep your home warm with some of my personal DIY tricks and home improvements don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Another alternative is to build or buy your own house that is specifically designed with the environment in mind. For instance, you can now get houses that are built from bales of straw, or which have a living wall. I would absolutely love to build my own home, and I’ve chatted with my dad in the past about building our own round-house, made from completely eco-friendly resources that have minimal impact on our environment, and being as close to zero waste as possible.

Dear Petrol Heads…

The car that you drive is another thing that has a big impact on the environment. The dichotomous decision between petrol and diesel (which research shows is the worse option) is not what we have to choose between anymore. While hybrid cars are still reasonably new, they are a much better option. Electric cars are not environmentally neutral since the production would have resulted in carbon being emitted, just as the delivery and sale of the car would necessitate the same. However, they are much better than their conventional predecessors. They may be a little more expensive and harder to keep (there are petrol stations all over but few charging points), but if you care about the environment, it is the right thing to do.

On a daily basis (several times a day in fact) I witness parents driving their children to school. Many of these parents only live a short walk from the school. I understand when these parents have to drop off the kids and go straight to work, but many just take the car to save a few minutes of walking and drive straight home again. Why not grab your scooter (oh c’mon, you know they’re not just for kids!) and scoot along together? Take the dog with you and get him out for a walk too. There are lots of fun ways you can get out of the car, save petrol costs and get fits and healthy too.

Look at car-shares online. Many people offer seat space for a chip-in to the petrol cost (and its often cheaper than the bus). Explore your options and you’ll be surprised at how much cash you can save (and have a guilt-free-plane-loving conscience too!