Endearingly told and full of hope and humour, new children’s book Harry Helps Grandpa Remember provides a gentle introduction for children into the world of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Life’s timing can sometimes be impeccable.

My grandfather has just been diagnosed with a form of Dementia. As the family get’s used to his random requests asking us to organise his wedding to either a long lost friend, the nurse who cares for him or even his second cousin (he’s a 94 year old widow) and offering me advice on buying a piano (forgetting he gave me his old one 14 years ago) it’s interesting that my inbox pinged this week with a press release for a new children’s book dealing with Dementia.

Karen Tyrrell is an award-winning Brisbane author and teacher, and her new children’s picture book Harry Helps Grandpa Remember is aimed at raising community awareness of Dementia, Alzheimer’s and memory loss on the aged, and the effect it has on everyone involved.

The story begins with Harry and Grandpa playing hide-and-seek together. Over time Grandpa changes, becoming grumpy and forgetful, finally refusing to play games with Harry. It’s a story many families know well and so with a personal interest at heart.

I spoke to Karen about her new book.

What inspired Harry Helps Grandpa Remember?

My father has memory loss and my father-in-law has Alzheimer’s so I wanted to write a book to raise awareness for the illnesses but that could also help children understand and cope.  I wanted to show and teach with some humour because when you are dealing with memory loss we need to have some humour so we are not too down with it all. But we also need compassion and skills to help our grandparents through these tough times

How did you cope initially?

Well it’s an ongoing issue and its tricky and we are lucky to have a network of family members helping. The first things we did to help was give them (the fathers) a special gift, a portable white board so they could write down reminders about what is special about that day, visitors they might be getting and things they need to remember. We also gave diaries to them to help cope day to day.

Do you think young children really understand?

Children do realise they have changed; they need to understand that Grandma and Grandpa need routine. The grand children might need to wear nametags, or to say, “Hi Grandpa, my name is Hayden”. It might not mean they will remember them, but it helps. But the key is to still spend time with them. Maybe take a pet for pet therapy, something to make them bond with the grandparent. Take photos, and look at photos from long ago, just to continue sharing and seeing and spending time with them even though they have changed and are different. Most importantly to be in the now with them and not worry about what it might be like in 6 months time, enjoy the now.

How important is that contact?

Even though they may not remember them, the hugs the cuddles are still so important for the elderly for as long as possible. But it is important to both- touch, smell and time is a good memory to have for the child as well.

Top tips for helping a child with a grandparent’s memory loss

  • Get involved with their grandparents. Regularly see them and learn how to remind their grandparents of the good fun things.
  • Photos, white boards and music. Music is a strong way to stimulate the brain for the elderly and maybe you could even get up and have a dance, it’s a fun way to communicate and create lovely memories for the child.
  • Physical activity every day helps the brain, go for a walk if you can with Grandparents.
  • Cross words, jigsaws, reading, and most importantly have discussions to stimulate the brain.

Harry Helps Grandpa Remember  will launch as a fun children’s interactive pantomime at Logan North Library, Sports Drive Underwood on Saturday 20 June 10am.

It is a FREE event and includes children’s activities. Ring 3412 4140 to RSVP a seat.

Karen will sign copies at these book stores …

13 June 9-12am: Mary Ryans, Milton, Brisbane

18 June 11-1pm: Angus & Robertson Post Office Square, Brisbane

27 June 11-1pm: Dymocks Westfield Garden City

28 June 11-1pm: Dymocks Westfield Carindale

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