The stories within the pages of a book can help us to understand ourselves and the world around us. For people affected by dementia, books can also play a key role in helping to understand the sense of identity they might have lost.
Schemes such as Reading Well and Books on Prescription have already given people with dementia and mental health conditions the opportunity to understand how these conditions affect them and also provide additional comfort for loved ones.
Let’s take a look at some of the titles which could be on your reading list.
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There are hundreds of books sharing stories about what it’s like to live with dementia and how the condition affects us. For now, we’ll settle for just a handful!
Someone I Used to Know by Wendy Mitchell
Described as a ‘landmark book’, Someone I Used to Know was released in February 2018 and soon became a Sunday Times bestseller. The story follows the author Wendy Mitchell’s own experiences of being diagnosed with young onset dementia at the age of 54, and how this diagnosis led her to having almost a new identity.
Someone I Used to Know gives a unique account of what living with dementia is like and the changes that a diagnosis can bring, as well as celebrating the person Wendy Mitchell was before her diagnosis. A powerful, inspirational story.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Now a major motion picture, Still Alice tells the story of a celebrated professor, Alice Howland, who begins to lose her thoughts and memories due to Alzheimer’s. What makes this novel especially poignant is that Alice, like so many people with the condition, finds it hard to come to terms with her independence being dramatically affected by her diagnosis.
Beautifully descriptive and thought-provoking, Still Alice discusses what many of us fear when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s and the questions faced by many families around the world.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
A moving debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing won the 2014 Costa First Novel Award and received outstanding comments for its moving storyline and the way Emma Healy’s narrator, an elderly lady with Alzheimer’s, shares her story.
Demonstrating the memory difficulties associated with dementia makes Emma Healy’s novel an honest and insightful representation of these conditions and how people’s memories can be preserved by objects and places.
Grandma by Jessica Shepard
Released back in 2014, Grandma received high praise for showing what it’s like for younger family members – grandchildren – to witness a grandparent begin to change as a result of dementia. The story also discusses the major decision to move a relative into a care home.
Grandma is told from the point of view of the grandchild, Oscar, and is an important book for helping younger family members to not only learn about how dementia can affect their loved one, but also help the rest of the family to understand the affect it can have on the younger members who may not be able to articulate their feelings.
Dancing with Dementia by Christine Bryden
Dancing with Dementia is another personal account of living with dementia, told by former top civil servant Christine Bryden. Giving a vivid view into what a person living with dementia is like, Dancing with Dementia also shows that it is still possible to live an independent life even with dementia.
Christine Bryden’s story also shows that dementia, while often distressing and a lot to come to terms with, also opens the door to self-discovery and helps us to learn aspects of ourselves we would not have known otherwise.
The benefits of books and dementia
These titles are all insightful and emotional for a number of reasons. Books such as these help to give us an understanding about dementia and can reassure us that while a diagnosis is significant, there is always support available for you and your family.
Though the actual act of reading might become more difficult for someone with dementia as their condition progresses, the emotions they will experience by having someone read to them can lead to them rediscovering the memories they might have lost – it is worth remembering that dementia is more than just memory.
And with audiobooks becoming more accessible, this can be another way for a person with dementia to still enjoy their favourite stories. Hearing poetry can also invoke other memories and encourage imagination, which can also allow those living with dementia a chance to express their creativity.
A full list of Reading Well’s suggested titles can be accessed here, and we’d love to know if you yourself have any books which have helped you understand a loved one’s dementia. We’d also love to hear if you have any other activities you do to help a relative or friend, such as listening to music.