Working as Coordinator at the Sid Valley Memory Café in Sidmouth, Devon for nearly 4 years has given Rachel Johnstone a valuable insight into the needs of people with dementia and their carers and families.

Developing an innovative approach, the café has become much more than just a valued meeting place for those with memory problems and dementia. Visits out around East Devon, and multi-sensory activities drawing on people’s memory of smells, music, objects from the past and visual cues, have all helped stimulate people’s reminiscences on a range of subjects from transport, to entertainment, and the seaside in the past.

As people’s dementia develops however, Rachel acknowledges that families often find it increasingly difficult to engage with their loved one – particularly in a care home setting.Families can have a sense of guilt that they are not doing enough when they visit their relative in the care home. They can feel awkward and they start to visit less and less, and this compounds the social isolation of the resident” she says.

Image - Dementia and the family bbok coverTo combat this and help families enjoy their visits, spend quality time together and build new memories, she has written a book entitled “Dementia and the Family”. In it, she provides ideas for practical and fun activities that families can enjoy together at home or in a care home setting.

“People with dementia may forget facts and things that have happened but still retain all the emotions associated with an event .This means that although they may forget your visit, the positive emotional feelings that your visit engendered – the contentment and the sense of belonging within the family will remain”.

Activities in the book (and there are over 160 of them!) can be tailored to the interests of the person you are visiting, and suggested activities are as diverse as watching older movies together, singing games, playing with old fashioned toys, favourite board games, physical activities (such as table tennis and dancing) , craft tasks and exercises using smell as a basis for reminiscence (such as oiling a cricket bat with linseed oil or brewing coffee).

Alongside suggested activities are explanations about how the activities will benefit someone with dementia, and guidance on how to communicate effectively, as well as how to create a dementia friendly environment.

Also featured is advice on how to talk to children about dementia and include them in the activities, as getting children involved is a vital part of the process, stresses Rachel.

Research shows that having fun with, and being cared for and valued by family members are the most important aspects of well-being for older people. Dementia doesn’t change this.”

“Activities allow the person ‘behind the dementia’ to shine through, create real moments of ‘togetherness’ and provide opportunities for your loved one to do the things they enjoy doing.”

The book takes into account guidelines produced by The Social Care Institute for Excellence for involving family members in the care of loved ones in a care home. While many care homes already  provide excellent programmes of activity for those with dementia, getting family members involved is always advantageous.  This book can really help care home staff and families work together to improve quality of life for those with dementia.

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing people come alive through activities and reminiscence, and witnessing a spark be reignited between the carer and the cared for,” says Rachel. “My work with the Memory Café has, in part, been my inspiration for the book because I have seen, first-hand, how activities allow the person behind the dementia to shine through – and I wanted to help families to recreate their own memorable moments of togetherness.”

“This book will hopefully give families fun, positive things they can do at home – and the confidence and belief in the ways in which they can improve their loved one’s quality of life. People with dementia struggle to do a lot of things – but there is so much you can do to help them.”

“Dementia and the Family” is available from Amazon priced £6.95, through the book’s own website or direct from the publishers, Southgate Publishers, by calling 01363 776888.