How to deal with children’s questions about dementia

As Christmas is a time we often get together with friends and relatives we haven't seen for a while, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that enquires to organisations such as the Alzheimer's Society tend to peak in the Christmas and New Year period, with people worried about how to cope with changes in a loved one's behaviour.

Children often tend to be quite blunt in their observations and questions, and it can be very hard to know how to deal with their concerns.

Answering a query from a Mum of a 6 year old struggling to cope with her Grandma's dementia, Dr Simon Ridley from Alzheimer's Research UK has some useful advice.... 

Question: "My mum has got dementia and my six-year-old daughter doesn't understand why her grandma sometimes doesn't know who she is and can say strange things. How can I best explain it to her?"

Answer: "Dementia isn't like a lot of other illnesses and can be hard to understand even for adults. Explaining to a child why someone they know and love is changing can be a particular challenge.

"The last thing anyone would want is for children to think these changes are in some way their fault or that if a relative doesn't seem to know who they are it's because they don't care about them any more.

"To begin with, you might want to talk to your daughter about the brain – that our brains are what allow us to think, remember who people are, and choose the things we say and do. Explaining that brains – just like other parts of the body – sometimes become ill, can go a long way towards demystifying the condition in the eyes of children and will hopefully help your daughter to make sense of the changes happening to her grandma.

"She will likely have a lot of follow-up questions, some of which may not be easy to answer. To help with these, Alzheimer's Research UK has worked with families affected by dementia to develop

"The site provides information tailor-made for children of different ages and brings together stories, videos, games, and accounts from young people who know someone with dementia."



Memory blanket stimulates precious memories

Amanda's mum Kathy with her memory blanket

"Anything that may trigger a feeling or memory is worth a try" writes Amanda Franks, describing her efforts to support her Mother who is in the later stages of Early-Onset Alzheimer's disease.

Writing for the charity, Alzheimer's Research UK, Amanda describes how her latest gift of a Memory Blanket, personalised with large scale family photos, has had a profound and moving effect on her Mum....

Amanda FranksChampion, Alzheimer's Research UK

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease. I’ve watched my mum fade by the day and anything that may trigger a feeling or memory is worth a try. When I came across the memory blankets sold through Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Memory Store I didn’t hesitate in ordering one.

I chose a variety of photos. I never quite know which decade Mum is in so I found a selection from across the family and across the ages; and off they went to be made into a blanket.

When it arrived I couldn’t have been more delighted. The quality was outstanding. A thick fleece, I chose a baby pink for the reverse. The pictures were crisp and of a size and colours that I hoped would grab Mum’s attention.

I took the blanket straight over to Mum at her care home. Mum was 58 when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. While she is physically okay, at 65 she is now in the advanced stages of the disease. These days, photo albums and pictures rarely get any attention. I showed her the blanket and she smiled and nodded but following a pointing finger is no longer a natural response. As ever I talked through my latest gift and laid it out across the foot of her bed and carried on chatting. Verbal communication is almost gone but she began to stare at the blanket and smile. I can’t expect a thank you these days, but just seeing a glimmer of recognition and a feeling of warmth pass over her face made it all worthwhile.

A few days later I visited Mum. One of the carers came straight over and said that Mum had taken her by the hand and shown her a picture of me as a child on the blanket. The carer said that Mum pointed to the image and told her she had looked after that little girl. Apparently Mum was very determined to show her. This was a reaction she experienced alone in her room when a brief second of lucidity had allowed her to see and feel the love she had for her family.

The memory blanket is a wonderful item and is there in the moments of clarity. Everyone who visits mentions the blanket. I say she is wrapped in the love, warmth and most importantly the security of her family thanks to this simple blanket.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has joined forces with online retailer Bags of Love to enable people living with dementia or their loved ones to create personalised memory blankets using their chosen photos. Visitors to the site can order their memory blanket from ‘The Memory Store’, a purpose built shop for Alzheimer’s Research UK within the company’s main website, with 30% from each product sold donated to Alzheimer’s Research UK to fund pioneering research.

For more information about creating a Memory blanket using your own chosen photos, click on the link here:

Article first published on Alzheimer's Research UK blog 12/11/15

Tips for managing Christmas with someone in the advanced stages of dementia

Christmas is traditionally a time for getting together with family and friends. But if one of your guests, or someone you live with, is in the advanced stages of dementia, the change of routine that comes with getting together with other people can be fraught with difficulties, leaving you tense and anxious.

Dementia alters people's perceptions which is likely to make it difficult to do things and celebrate in the way you have in the past. This does not mean you have to scrap your plans for Christmas altogether though.

Maizie Mears-Owen, Head of Dementia Services at Care UK, suggests some simple ideas that can make a big difference and help the whole family enjoy the Christmas festivities.

Forward Planning

"Begin to prepare them in advance by talking about who will be there, and who those people are to them - niece, grandson, friend. Photographs are very useful for this as it will help them to recognise faces."

Photographs can also be useful because people with dementia may be living in a different decade. It is common for people to believe they are at a younger point in their lives. If this is the case, use older photos to explain who people are - and don't get upset if your relative gets names wrong.

Muddling might happen

"If your mother calls you 'mum', do not get embarrassed and do not correct her - she is just at the point in her mind where you are her mother's age, or she sees something in you that reminds her of her mum," says Mears-Owen.

"Embrace it. Be 'Mum'. Help her with her food and with opening her presents - she will find it reassuring and calming. Contradicting her will make her feel agitated and confused."

Young children seem to take it all in their stride. However, teenagers can find it upsetting. "Not being recognised or seeing out-of-character behaviour can sometimes be confusing, embarrassing and hurtful," adds Mears-Owen.

She suggests talking the issue over together as a family before Christmas, and also recommends Matthew Snyman's book The Dementia Diaries (available from Amazon), which follows four young people dealing with their grandparents' dementias.

Christmases Past

Christmas Eve is the time to start tapping into family traditions. Mears-Owen says: "If you prepare your vegetables on Christmas Eve night, encourage your loved one to take part. They will feel useful and it can start conversations about Christmases past. Reminiscence is vital to increasing wellbeing and something we do across our 114 care homes. Get them talking about their childhood Christmases as well as yours."

Dementia can take a toll on verbal communication skills. "Music is a great way to connect with someone, as well as being fun," says Mears-Owen. "Even if they cannot sing, they can enjoy tapping out a rhythm and joining in, so why not try a carol service or sing along with a CD?"

Make room for calm

Christmas mornings can be frenetic, especially if there are young children in the house. Set aside a quiet and comfortable place for your relative. "The hurly-burly of present opening, noisy toys and over-excited youngsters can prove too much for someone whose senses have changed," Mears-Owen explains.

"To avoid confusion and anxiety, offer your relative a cup of tea away from the chaos and, if they want it, sit with them and chat."

The festive feast

The centrepiece of Christmas is the family lunch. Ann Saunders, a Care UK operational director with a personal interest in nutrition in older people, says: "Dementia can take away depth perception and narrow the field of vision, so keep things fairly clear.

Hand out crackers when you are going to pull them, limit the amount of crockery and cutlery on the table and use a tablecloth that contrasts with the plates. White-on-white blends in and the person will not know where the plate ends and the cloth begins.

"I find a blue or bright yellow plate works best: the meal stands out as there is very little food in those colours. Do not use plates with patterns as these can cause optical illusions and confusion.

"Try not crowding the plate," she adds. "Appetites are small and lots of food adds to confusion. Keep the meat in one section of the plate, the carbs in another and the vegetables separate. It is attractive and clear.

"Taste buds age and older people often develop a sweet, sour or savoury tooth to compensate. Try adding lemon or lime for that extra zing, use plenty of fresh herbs and try adding a teaspoon of honey to the water you cook the carrots in. The most important thing is that everyone indulges in their favourite foodie treats throughout the day."

Remember, just because someone is living with dementia doesn't mean they can't join in the fun and indulgence with the rest of the family. A few simple changes can make a big difference and help everyone have a fulfilling Christmas celebration.

With thanks to Care UK.  Article by Abi Jackson, first published on

Research shows the benefit of computer brain training games

Researchers at King's College London have published their findings of a 6 month study into the effects of sustained daily use of computer brain training games on people over 50.

Just 10 minutes of play daily on problem solving and reasoning games helped participants in the study improve both their memory and reasoning skills.  

The findings are significant, point out the researchers, because the effects of such brain training could have a positive impact on how well older people are able to carry out everyday tasks such as navigating public transport, shopping, cooking and managing personal finances. 

Further research is now planned by the team at King's College, explains Dr Anne Corbett, to explore whether computer brain training games could have a place in reducing people's risk of developing dementia as they get older.

“The impact of a brain training package such as this one could be extremely significant for older adults who are looking for a way to proactively maintain their cognitive health as they age.

We’re launching a new open trial to see how well older people engage with the brain training package over the long-term. We want to investigate how genetics might affect performance to allow us to better understand how brain training could be used to maintain cognition or even reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.”​

Dr Anne Corbett 
King's College, London

The Alzheimer's Society, which funded the research, is encouraging people to have a go at brain training. Visit their web page by clicking here to try out a demo brain training game

To read more about the research visit King's College London website

Exploring the impact of swimming on dementia

Keeping active is an important part of staying healthy and giving you the best chance of managing to live well with dementia. So earlier this year, the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) launched a pilot scheme in Manchester and Durham to make it easier, and more enjoyable, for people with dementia and their carers to access swimming sessions.

The aim of the Dementia Friendly Swimming Project is to build up a network of dementia friendly swimming pools, training staff and health care professionals to make them aware of some of the challenges faced by people living with dementia so that they can see what changes need to be made at the pool to create a warm, friendly and safe environment.

The pilot scheme running in Manchester is proving a huge success and has won several local awards. Already, participants are reporting positive results, including improvements in their sense of wellbeing, and the ASA are optimistic that these will continue to build as the scheme progresses.

The ASA firmly believe that swimming holds the possibility of providing many benefits that can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of people living with dementia. They stress that:

  • Swimming can offer a sense of mental wellbeing, something which cannot be easily measured but is mentioned by thousands of participants.
  • It helps clear the mind, encourages positivity in individuals and builds a sense of self-worth.
  • Swimming can soothe the mind and reduce anxiety
  • It can relax the body by supporting it in a relatively weightless environment
  • It can offer opportunities to socialise.
  • It can reduce loneliness and contribute to creating a sense of place.

Gathering evidence of success is an important part of the project explains Lara Lill, Head of Health and Wellbeing at the ASA.

​We decided that we wanted to make sure that we gather all the evidence because there is very little research that exists on swimming and dementia. So this is groundbreaking research.

​We can't prove that swimming can cure dementia, but we can show it improves a person's quality of life.​

Lara Lill 
Amateur Swimming Association                 
Lara Lill

For more information visit the
ASA Dementia Friendly Swimming Hub

Article first published 15/10/15

Could you contribute to dementia research?

With dementia cited by many as their number one fear for older life, and dementia rates predicted to soar over the coming decades, the need for research into this devastating condition has never been more urgent.

Evidence from dementia charities suggest there are no shortage of people willing to help research projects taking place, but data protection laws prevent researchers contacting people directly. This is important to protect people's privacy, but it makes recruiting people to take part in studies time-consuming and expensive and therefore, ultimately, a barrier to progress.

So now the NHS has launched its website Join Dementia Research with the specific aim of helping to match potential  volunteers with research projects taking place across the UK.

Goiz-Eder Aspe Juaristi, Dementia challenge project manager at Nottingham University Hospitals explains...

"It's a matchmaking website where people interested in taking part in research express their interest and it puts them in touch with local researchers conducting research in the area. It could cover all areas like the effects of lifestyle, drugs, alcohol and all sorts of things."

It's a different way of doing things. But it's more accessible and anyone can join in and it puts these people in touch and they can get in contact much easier. This is the only way to make progress – we need to make that happen."

For more information, click here to link through to the Join Dementia Research website, and take a couple of minutes to watch the official YouTube video clip below.

Is your kitchen dementia safe? Take this simple test to find out.

The kitchen is full of a variety of tools, objects and locations. It’s so easy to get confused about what things are and where they’re stored that you end up just giving up, and find yourself missing meals and drinks.

Eating and drinking are obviously essential to good health so finding ways to keep your kitchen safe and dementia friendly so you don’t neglect this is more important now than ever.

So, be honest, is your kitchen safe & dementia friendly?

Take an objective look at your kitchen and see how well you do against our suggested list of improvements below.

Here’s our checklist of things to remove:

  • Anything poisonous or dangerous. It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget what lurks at the back of cupboards or under the sink! Cleaning products, ant powder etc. could all too easily be mistaken for foodstuffs so should all be hidden away out of sight.

  • Anything you don’t use regularly. Clutter is your enemy, so keep surfaces clear and have to hand only the stuff you use most often.
  • Cupboard doors! It may sound drastic, but simply removing the doors makes it easier to see what’s inside and prompts you to use it.
  • The electric kettle – its surprisingly common for older people to put an electric kettle on the hob to heat up. The very first time this happens, it is essential you throw the kettle away and buy an old-fashioned hob kettle complete with whistle to remind you to check when it has boiled.

And possible things to incorporate:

  • See-through food containers, which not only make identification of the contents easier but also help as a reminder to eat , particularly if there are tasty treats inside to act as a temptation.
  • An ode! Sounds a bit space-age doesn’t it, but is actually a small plug-in machine that releases selected food odours, at carefully timed intervals, that have been shown to make people feel hungry and therefore more interested in eating.
  • A smoke alarm, in or just outside the kitchen, to warn if food is burning and a pan, grill or oven has been forgotten. It’s a good idea to connect the alarm to the mains, rather than have to worry about remembering to check the batteries at regular intervals.
  • A gas sensor that will detect if someone forgets to turn the gas off, and a device that will automatically shut off the supply and raise the alarm.
  • A fridge and/or cooker with glass door. These are often advertised as wine coolers but by swapping the shelves they work very well as a fridge.
  • Last, but not least, if you have space, put a comfortable chair at the table or worksurface in the kitchen so the person with dementia can join with, or even just watch, food preparation activities.

Remember the changes you make don’t have to be big ones to make a difference. Even small alterations can have a big impact so take one step at a time and have a go!

How to create a Life Memories book

Making a Life Memories book is one of the most fulfilling activities families can possibly do when a loved one is facing the challenges of dementia.

The idea is a simple, yet powerful, one.
It involves collecting together lots of photographs from the person's past, encouraging them to reminisce and talk about their life, and then recording all these memories together in a home-made book.

While dementia often diminishes short-term memories, memories from further back in the past are often stronger, so given encouragement and stimulation, it is often surprising how responsive and engaged people can become. The emphasis of course is on what they can remember, rather than what they can't, and the positive feelings this evokes can really help boost self-esteem in the person with dementia and brighten the mood of everyone involved.

The video below produced by the Dementia Services Development Centre team at the University of Stirling, shows a fantastic example of just how much can be gained through the making of a Life Memories book. The project has clearly been a hugely enjoyable one for both Ann and her Mother, Mary. As they look through the book they have made together, the bond they share through reliving Mary's memories is heartwarming to see.

Once made, the book can be referred to over and over again to stimulate memories, and encourage interaction. It can help future carers get to know the person as an individual, and ultimately is likely to become an heirloom to be passed down to future generations.

To find out more about how to go about making a Life Memories Book, the Alzheimer's Society have produced an excellent 4 page guide which contains all the information you need to get started. Download it from their website by clicking on the link here:

Alzheimer's Society: Remembering together-Making a life history book

Dementia Carers need to look after themselves too, warns Alzheimer’s Society

Dementia isn’t an illness that only affects the person who has it.

It impacts on those around them too, especially the spouses, partners and relatives who become carers for their loved ones, as the recent tragic case of Meryl and Michael Parry – who killed his wife and later himself, reportedly after struggling to cope with her dementia – has highlighted.

Extreme cases like this are rare, but it’s important – as carers, medical professionals and as a society – to be aware of carers’ needs and to know that supporting carers is just as vital as supporting the person with the diagnosis.

‘Physically and mentally exhausting’

“Recent research by Alzheimer’s Society revealed that most GPs believe their patients with dementia have to rely on families and unpaid carers,” says George McNamara, head of policy and public affairs at Alzheimer’s Society.

“While there are positive aspects of caring, such as learning new skills, strengthening relationships and supporting someone who is important to you, it can also be both physically and mentally exhausting.”

Susan Drayton, clinical lead for Admiral Nursing Direct at Dementia UK, agrees that the long hours involved in caring for family members can take their toll because people are unaware of the support networks available.

“Sadly it can be common for carers to struggle, and many carers experience stress and depression,” she says.

“Dementia can still have negative connotations and many people are unaware of the support and services available. Older carers can also have their own complex physical and emotional needs which can add to the challenges of caring for a spouse with dementia.”

Support is out there

Just acknowledging that being a carer can be challenging, and that it’s normal to find it a struggle at times, can make a big difference to people, but actual support is also very important.

“A simple phone-call to a specialist, like one of our Admiral Nurses on our helpline, can help carers feel less isolated, and we can also point them in the direction of local support services,” says Drayton.

“Our helpline is staffed by expert Admiral Nurses who provide practical and emotional support for family carers as well as health professionals. We’ve seen a 78% increase in calls over the last year, and callers have described the helpline as a ‘lifeline’ when they’ve need support.”

You’re not alone

Talking openly about how you’re coping and feeling doesn’t come naturally for everybody, but talking to others who are going through – or have previously been through – similar situations, can be immensely helpful.

And even if you don’t want to ‘open up’ about your personal situation immediately, just spending time with other carers and people who understand what living with dementia is like can be a big relief and confidence boost.

“Many find it helpful to talk about their feelings with their friends and family or those in a similar situation. Online forums such as Alzheimer’s Society Talking Point can be a useful source of support and practical suggestions, or simply a place for carers to let off steam after a difficult day,” says McNamara.

“Other types of support include local support groups which can be found through our website. GPs, counsellors and other professionals can also offer support.”

Feeling guilty is normal – but not necessary

Being a good carer does not mean you should never admit that you need a break, you’d like some time to yourself or to get a change of scene.

In fact, while it’s totally normal to feel guilty about these things, it’s actually extremely important that carers do look after their own needs too – and that means having some time off, even if it’s just a few hours here and there to go for a walk, enjoy a hobby, or simply have a bath and eat a meal and watch TV uninterrupted.

“Guilt is very common, carers can feel they’re never doing enough for the person they’re caring for,” says Drayton.

“But it is so important that carers look after themselves, by talking to someone and accessing services that support them. By investing in the health and wellbeing of carers, who provide the lion’s share of care, we in turn are then providing better care for the person with dementia.

“It’s important that carers don’t feel that they have to cope on their own.”

​Help is at hand

The Admiral Nursing Direct helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9.15am-4.45pm and on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, 6pm-9pm, on 0845 257 9406. Or you can email

​Find Alzheimer’s Society Talking Point online forum at the Alzheimer’s Society website.

Article originally published on BT website

Help to calculate the cost of care

Working out the cost of care has never been easy. But when you're dealing with a diagnosis of dementia, its a subject that will require your attention.

Doing some forward planning before care becomes essential can really help sort out your options and put you in a position to make well-informed choices.

Surprisingly, residential care home costs vary significantly according to which part of the country you live in, and even between care homes in the same area.

So the BBC have produced an easy to use “Care Calculator” which can help you work out the cost of care in the area of the UK in which you live. By entering your postcode, and then answering a few simple questions about your income and savings, the calculator gives you the average cost of care- whether in a residential setting or for help in the home.

Whether you’re planning ahead and trying to allocate savings to meet possible future care needs, or are looking at immediate options and want to compare one provider against another, the care calculator provides an immediate cost estimate and useful starting point for further investigation.

The BBC Care Calculator has been welcomed by government and charities alike.

This calculator is a fantastic resource. It gives you lots of great information and is what public sector broadcasting is all about. I’m really impressed.

Norman LambFormer Care Minister 
Caroline Abrahams
Age UK

The BBC’s care cap calculator is a useful tool that brings some clarity to a complicated system.

Click here to link through to the BBC Care Calculator

or visit

For further information on Care funding and the Cap on care costs proposed for April 2016 visit BBC news: How the cap on care costs works