Memory bags arrive at South Library

Memory bags can be beneficial for people with dementia. The memory bags contain a selection of objects chosen to help stimulate the senses and promote reminiscing and discussion.

Memory bag number 4: Kitchen
The kitchen memory bag

The bags can be issued on a library card for four weeks. Our new memory bags have four themes:

They are located alongside the Large print collection at South Library.

Acting Team Leader Outreach and Learning

Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

Cover of Crooked HeartI’ve read World War II evacuee stories before. The fear of the unknown, sullen confusion, awful foster homes, inevitable loss. Children labelled like lunches, dragged from door to door in search of a temporary home. I can’t think of many novels with positive evacuee experiences.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans doesn’t sound like a positive evacuee story, but it is. It begins with Noel, age 10, realising his godmother, Mattie, is succumbing to dementia. A tragedy for anyone to have to deal with, but especially for a boy on his own.

She was losing words. At first it was quite funny. ‘The box of things,’ Mattie would say, waving her mauve-veined hands vaguely around the kitchen. ‘The box of things for making flames. It’s a song, Noel!

The box of things for making flames
I can’t recall their bloody names.’

After a while, it stopped being funny. Some words would resurface after a few days; others would sink for ever. Noel started writing labels: ‘SHAWL’, ‘WIRELESS’, ‘GAS MASK’, ‘CUTLERY DRAWER’.

There are two unusual and meaningful relationships in this book: between Noel and his suffragette godmother Mattie, who is so erudite and funny I could quote pretty much anything—

‘Hobbies are for people who don’t read books,’ said Noel; it was one of Mattie’s sayings.

—and, later, between Noel and his foster mother Vee, whose early descriptions make me think of a hen — head constantly turning, looking for something better.

At first Vee sees Noel as an opportunity, a crippled evacuee who might get her some more money (which she is severely lacking). In a way she was right: Noel quickly catches on to her scams, and becomes the level-headed organiser of their illegal outings. It sounds awful, but I ended up rooting for the pair of them, even while they’re going around pretending to be collecting for the war fund. Despite their seeming differences — Vee is “common” and middle-aged, Noel is educated and a child — they’re both lonely and neglected by their surviving relatives. Their growing affection for each other and funny/heart-breaking mishaps already guarantee Crooked Heart a place on my Best Of 2015 list.

Some more books of love and friendship set before, during or after the World Wars:

Cover of The Paying Guests Cover of Consequences Cover of From a Distance

What are your favourite sad but funny books?

What are you doing here?

Cover of What are you doing here?Dementia. It is a hard thing. Local author Janet Wainscott has written a book called What are you doing here? Reflections on Dementia. She tells the story of her Mum’s dementia as it progresses over many years, and shares other people’s experiences too – at all stages, from those earliest incidents indicating something is wrong:

Later, D. and her brother found a kitchen cupboard where their mother has hidden a pile of wooden chopping boards marked with deep black circles from the bottom of overheated pots and pans. She’d obviously been having difficulty for some time, but had managed, just, to cover it up and hide the evidence.

This small book combines medical knowledge with observation. It is also beautifully written – in a support club, Janet sees The Press used as “reality orientation”:

The newspaper is normal. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what you’re reading or you read it upside-down, because it’s familiar. Even people with no language will look at the newspaper and at the pictures.

There is such honesty in this book – toileting issues, guilt, the toughness of being a caregiver, and the pain of having to get your parent into a resthome. But they need to be talked about – What are you doing here? does it in a way we can all identify with.

Visit Janet’s website for more information.

More blog posts on Alzheimers or Dementia

More about Alzheimers

Kate de Goldi and Dr. Helena Popovic at Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013

Cover: The ACB with Honora LeeI’ve always thought that fiction can teach us as much as non-fiction about life, if not more. A medical book about dementia might give you the facts, but, if you really want to understand the disease, Margaret Mahy‘s young adult novel Memory is hard to beat.

Kate de Goldi and Dr. Helena Popovic both have parents with dementia and they both turned to words to help them deal with it, though in different ways. In a  session at the 2013 Auckland Writers and Readers Festival they talked about their books and their personal experiences of this cruel disease.

Popovic is an Australian doctor whose book In Search of my Father weaves story and science. De Goldi turned wholly to story, writing a powerful children’s book about a young girl and her grandmother.

She had always wanted to write an ABC, but the idea of locating this ultimate way of ordering things in a dementia unit where disorder rules only crystallized after the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.

De Goldi was in Christchurch at the time, helping to move her mother into a rest home. While running  beside the river De Goldi noticed large cracks in the road and this started her thinking about cracks in the community and in her mother’s mind.

The ACB with Honora Lee mixes comedy and sadness, and many of the scenes will resonate strongly with anyone who has experience of the struggle to extract meaning from the fragments of language dementia sufferers utter.  As de Goldi says “You could almost say dementia is like a book and you’re trying to complete what they’re saying”.

Popovic, asked to define dementia, offered “progressive mental decline that interferes with daily function”. As she said, Cover: In Search of my Fatherthis is a vague definition but until now dementia in all it forms has been regarded as irreversible. Popovic does not agree. She thinks there is a lot we can do to improve our brain function.

Physical exercise, social and mental stimulation all help and it seems that striving to learn a new skill is enough – you don’t have to become expert in it. After being almost inspired to try one of the projects in Rosemary McLeod’s beautiful book With Bold Needle and Thread  this was a great relief to me.

Popovic also thinks the phrase ‘senior moment’ should be banned as sometimes we speak things into existence. A lot can be done to prevent dementia and to improve our brain function in middle-age. She believes there should be a comprehensive campaign along the lines of the stop smoking and drive safely campaigns – cognitive decline is not inevitable.

Not a snappy sentence but a reassuring one.