Witnessing dementia in a loved one is heartbreaking. It’s hard enough for adults to deal with, but it can be impossible to explain to young children why their grandmother does not remember them.
However, Hayling Island author Tabatha Throup has put pen to paper to make that difficult conversation a little bit easier.
Published recently, Tabatha’s children’s poetry book Nanny Can’t Remember is based on her family’s experience when her mum Pamela Brown, 75, started to forget.
‘My mum has vascular dementia,’ says Tabatha, 46.
‘It was not diagnosed for a while but we noticed changes in her. It was really hard.’
Tabatha says Pamela, also from Hayling, started to forget things when she was in her early 60s – and that’s when alarm bells began ringing.
‘It wasn’t just memory loss but also personality changes. She would get angry because she knew something was going wrong,’ she explains.
The Throup family – Tabatha, her sisters Samantha Brown and Cassie West, their dad Colin and Pamela – have always been close.
So when Pamela’s personality was changing, it became apparent quickly.
Tabatha says: ‘My children, Tegan and Jonny, were seeing their nan everyday.
‘It was a slow decline at first and I was talking to my sisters about it more and more.
‘It came to a head in 2016. Mental health services had to get involved because mum began hallucinating and it was then that her dementia was confirmed.’
Pamela was finally diagnosed with vascular dementia – a common type of dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.
When she had to explain what had happened to her children, Tabatha says she was ‘completely honest’ but still found it hard to explain what dementia was.
‘I said that nanny’s brain wasn’t working properly. I kept on saying she may be acting differently because she can’t remember – I must have sounded like a broken record.
‘It was quite stressful so I wrote the poem for my children. The poetry was a way of dealing with the pain. I found it therapeutic.’
Within two days, Tabatha, who works as an account manager, had written eight verses of her poem and read it to her children Tegan, 11, and Jonny, eight.
‘It rhymed and it was like a lightbulb moment for me. My kids thought it was brilliant,’ she says.
In September 2016, she approached Austin Macauley Publishers with Nanny Can't Remember, which is a poetry book explaining to young children what dementia is and how it affects someone. The synopsis reads: ‘This book shows a loving family coming together.’
‘They said they really liked the idea and it was a valuable piece of work.
‘But I was given a contribution contract which meant I had to raise some of the money myself.’
After much deliberation, Tabatha set up a crowdfunding page in 2017 and reached her target of £2,500 in just seven months.
‘The poem came quite naturally. It includes real time events that my children can remember,’ she explains.
‘My parents came round one new year’s eve and the children remember nanny dancing. So it explains music is really important to people with dementia.’
Nanny Can’t Remember was finally published in February and some of the proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Society.
‘They help so many people with all different types of dementia,’ she smiles.
‘The illustrations are exactly what I wanted. They were done by Sue Martin, from Singleton near Chichester.’
Today, Pamela and Colin Brown still live on Hayling and have help from all three of their daughters, Tabatha’s husband Richard and carers. ‘We’re all managing her dementia now. Everyone is very understanding, including my kids.
‘The book has been great for my dad. It’s given him something to look forward to and he was really excited about it,’ says Tabatha. ‘I hope the book can raise awareness. It’s been great for me to have a different focus and produce something positive out of a negative situation.’
If you would like to buy a copy of Nanny Can’t Remember, search for it on Amazon or online and in store at Waterstones.
What is dementia?
Key facts and statistics on dementia from the Alzheimer’s Society.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62 per cent of those diagnosed.
Other types of dementia include; vascular dementia affecting 17 per cent of those diagnosed, mixed dementia affecting 10 per cent of those diagnosed.
Symptoms of dementia include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. Dementia is a terminal condition.
There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over one million by 2025. This will soar to two million by 2051. 225,000 will develop dementia this year, that’s one every three minutes.
One in six people over the age of 80 have dementia. n There are over 40,000 people under 65 with dementia in the UK.
There are not enough researchers and clinicians joining the fight against dementia. Five times fewer researchers choose to work on dementia than on cancer.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia. Delaying the onset of dementia by five years would halve the number of deaths from the condition, saving 30,000 lives a year.