Are there different types of Dementia?
Something I discovered when I was doing the research for It's Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella was that there are different types of dementia.
At my mother-in-law’s care home we got to know the residents. As I said in an earlier blog, they were all great characters and we learned so much from what they said and how they behaved. We learned about ourselves too – the way we reacted to them.
It’s heartbreaking to watch as dementia tightens its grip on your loved-one, there’s no doubt about it. But as we have five children (ranging from three to eighteen at the onset of Grandma’s dementia), we tried very hard to make our visits as upbeat and positive as we could. We wanted our children to want to visit Grandma. When we discovered how much pleasure these young people were giving to the older people, it made us even more determined to make the best of a horrible situation.
I appreciate that being a carer for a relation in your own home is very different from visiting (and being able to leave) a care home. I wouldn’t like anyone to think I am ‘romanticizing’ dementia in any way; I am simply explaining our own situation and how we dealt with it.
In It's Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella, twelve-year-old Billy lives on the dementia floor of Autumn Days Care Home with Gran and the other residents. Gran has Alzheimer’s: a type of dementia which particularly affects the memory (named after Alois Alzheimer, the doctor who first described it). People with Alzheimer’s often have difficulty remembering people and recent events, struggle to follow conversations, and yet can usually remember things from a long time ago. Gran thinks Billy is her son (who has mysteriously disappeared) and she is unaware of her own age and capabilities. She was inspired by my mother-in-law, with whom I once had a very happy discussion about whether or not she should have another baby.
Jude seized Dardar by the foot and held her upside down before running around the room with the doll flying in big circles as Jude flapped his hands up and down. Luckily Gran couldn’t see what he was doing as her eyesight is so bad, and she turned to Mary and said, “That’s my husband you know, he’s so good with children.”
A recent study by UCL (Sept 2020) has revealed that people who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life.
This is Frank’s type of dementia. He is a war veteran who can enjoy helping Billy with his history project, but he also has distressing flashbacks. As my book is for children, I needed to be careful dealing with this condition. I want children to be empathetic, not scared.
Mary has vascular dementia, which is the most common type of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. Vascular dementia occurs when the brain’s blood supply is blocked or damaged, and can lead to stroke. This can result in the loss of ability to walk, speak clearly and can cause weakness and balance difficulties.
About six months ago Mary had a stroke. When she came back from hospital I could hardly recognise her because something bad had happened to her face. The right side of her mouth drooped down and so did her eye and her cheek. It gave me a bit of a shock to see her looking so different, but when I looked at the good side of her face, there was Mary with a smile and a special blink for me.
Pascal is a French former ballerina. He has Lewy body dementia which includes symptoms such as hallucinating, mistakes in the perception of objects, and motor symptoms similar to those in Parkinson’s sufferers.
I went over to where Pascal was sitting, in his usual chair by the entrance to Nostalgia. Pascal sits with his eyes shut a lot of the time and pretends to be asleep. But it’s easy to tell when he’s really asleep because his false teeth rattle when he breathes in.
My favourite character is Beryl who gave me the opportunity for some classic one-liners in the book. She has a form of Frontotemporal dementia, which accounts for her rather direct and blunt comments. This type of dementia causes damage to the lobes at the front of the brain which can cause the person to behave in socially inappropriate ways (such as saying things that other people might find rude), or seem not to care about the feelings of others. The reason I particularly like Beryl is because she is always happy.
I would love to think that through my book, I can not only raise awareness of the different types of dementia, but also show children, and adults for that matter, that although dementia is a terrible disease, the people who have it are still loving, still able to enjoy certain aspects of life, and we can still have a wonderful time in their company.
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Grandma on her 90th birthday surrounded by her family