Helen Beaumont 2009. Losing Clive to younger onset dementia – one family’s story. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Review by Malcolm Wallis, DementiaSA.

This is an excellent biography, written by the widow of a victim of younger onset dementia. It traces the life of Clive Beaumont, a British soldier and for most of his life physically very active, who died in his early 50s having experienced dementia for about six years. There are two inter-woven strands, one being the illness and its effects on the family, the other being support including the role of the state and other organisations.

The book describes the couple’s early days together leading up to the confusing and devastating diagnosis of what was termed at the time ‘pre-senile dementia’, a wording now replaced by younger onset dementia, a relatively rare form of the condition, as the author notes, but certainly not negligible. The story is rich in detailed accounts of particular incidents and episodes such as driving, short duration disappearances, confusion over travel plans and communication breakdowns. Particularly touching is the account we are given of the impact on the family (mainly the author and the two young children). The book tells us how, after his condition deteriorated, Clive spent the last part of his life apart from his family in nursing homes and the like.

The role of supporting organisations is critically examined. It takes into account the decisions made by the UK bureaucracy on various matters (e.g. financial and health services) and the importance of non-government sector bodies such as research teams and the Alzheimer’s Society. The author and some of her contacts launched a smaller version of such organisations known as the ‘Clive Project’ after his death. One is impressed by how much of this kind of support is available in the UK (far more than in South Africa), notwithstanding some notable shortcomings such as lack of support for affected children.

This is very much the type of work that we need to see in South Africa. There are plenty of such oral stories that are not being written up, but should be so that awareness can grow in the wider society.

The book is highly recommended.

Remembering Yesterday, Caring Today: Reminiscence in Dementia Care – A Guide to Good Practice (Bradford Dementia Group Good Practice Guides).

P. Schweitzer and E. Bruce. 2008.
London: Jessica Kingsley.

Reviewed by Malcolm Wallis, DementiaSA

This book arises from a project initiated by the European Reminiscence Network. The project was called ‘Remembering Today, Caring Tomorrow’ (RYCT) which was based on the compelling idea that reminiscence and creative activities such as recalling proverbs or collecting memorabilia, however small in scale, can benefit persons with dementia by promoting personal wellbeing ,enriching communication and preserving lifelong relationships. There is a conventional view of nostalgia which sees it as an unfortunate way of seeing life as it prevents people from seeing the present clearly. The reminiscence approach turns this view on its head; by recollecting our past, it argues, we can better face the future. This view might not be entirely valid in South Africa. As shown by the deliberations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and elsewhere, for many people the past is not a happy place. This constitutes a factor to take into account when considering the possibilities of adopting such an approach in South African conditions.

This book is not just informative; it is much more than a ‘how to’ manual. It is also in places very moving as in a poem by a carer whose life was altered by her husband’s illness. It includes these lines:

“My husband’s needs must come first now
For in sickness and health I took a vow.
I will come to terms with this illness,
Even though I still don’t know how”

The book makes several points for us to take on board. To take just a few examples: the special contribution of family carers, the imperative to avoid the’ strong tendency’ to depersonalise and marginalise people with dementia, warmth (demonstrating concern and recognition), and playing to peoples’ strengths as much as possible. What is particularly impressive is the amount of practical detail provided to assist with the planning and carrying out of reminiscence based sessions. For example, based on the experience of one of the groups: ‘Fred needs one-to-one attention for activities when he’s away from Ena’ or ‘Working with the whole group, ask about the first pay packet. What did members spend their first pay on and how much was it?’

The book is definitely recommended, so long as the need to modify its advice to better suit South African conditions is taken into account.

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