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Author urges nurseries and schools to help educate children about dementia

Article By: Ellie Spanswick, News Editor

Children’s author, Lee Sterrey was inspired to write her latest book, ‘The Buttercup Game’ following an emotional plea from a friend, willing her to do something to help families and carers of people with dementia.

The Buttercup Game front cover, illustrated by Nicola Wyldbore-Smith

All of her stories contain lessons to be learnt, but The Buttercup Game is the first in the series to tackle such a sensitive issue.

The Buttercup Game tells the story of a young rabbit, Grady Grey whose Nana starts to become forgetful. Grady Grey struggles to understand what is happening to his Nana as she starts repeating herself in conversation and getting lost on the way home.

Speaking about her initial inspiration for the story, she said: “The conversation that I had with my friend about dementia stuck with me and I began looking into dementia in more detail, researching on the internet and speaking to carers of people with dementia. As a published author, the one thing I thought I could do to help was to help children understand dementia by writing a book.”

There are more than 850,000 people living in the UK with dementia, while it is estimated that 62 per cent of those are female, and more than 40,000 are aged over 65, which makes the chance of a child knowing or meeting someone with dementia increasingly likely. While more than 700,000 people provide informal care for a loved one, a figure that is expected to reach 1.7 million by 2050.

Symbolising the vulnerability of someone with dementia

The decision to use a rabbit as the main character is particularly symbolic as rabbits can often find themselves in danger, with the story referencing Nana wandering near a fox den before being rescued by a neighbour, symbolising the vulnerability of someone with dementia.

Though dementia is commonly associated with memory loss and ageing, dementia is not an inevitable part of growing older and it is possible for people with dementia to have independent and active lives and live well.

Grady Grey learning about dementia, illustrated by Nicola Wyldbore-Smith

The book is illustrated in pencil and watercolour by Sterrey's friend and art teacher Nicola Wyldbore-Smith who has provided illustrations for all of her stories so far. Her work is inspired by animals residing in the Warwickshire countryside and animals she has kept herself in the past.

Ms Sterrey continued: “I like bringing the characters of the animals on the farm to life and thinking about why animals do the things they do, introducing humans into the story could potentially take away some of the magic for the children reading or listening to the story.”

She began her writing career producing poems alongside her day job at IBM and published her first book, Doyley the Dormouse in early 2015, closely followed by The Escaped Pig, a story based on true events at her farm.

She said: “The Buttercup Game is the latest instalment of the Adventures of Honey Bee Farm series and is written to help young children understand if one of their own relatives develops dementia, so far the feedback I’ve received since publishing it has been incredible.”

As the story continues, Grady Grey begins to understand with the help of his mummy, what is happening to his Nana and how to handle different situations when she can’t remember things or starts to repeat herself. He learns to be calm and not get frustrated regardless of how many times Nana asks the same questions or wants to do the same activity.

'It is important for schools and nurseries to help'

Stressing the important role that schools and nurseries have to play in educating the next generation about dementia, Ms Sterrey said: “Some schools have already been labelled ‘dementia-friendly’ and are starting to realise that it is important to educate people about dementia.

"For teachers to be able to read the book and talk about dementia with the children openly can help children to understand, as it can be frightening if an adult begins acting strangely or behaviour that may be out of character for them or even start to regress back to childhood.

Nana hiding in the corner, illustrated by Nicola Wyldbore-Smith

“By educating this generation of children, hopefully we can help them to understand dementia from an early age then they will have that understanding as they grow up.”

In November 2015, Alzheimer’s Research UK launched the Dementia Explained website to help children understand dementia. The site was launched following the results of a YouGov poll which revealed that nearly one third of parents have felt the impact of the condition of a loved one.

The Buttercup Game is one of the latest resources for children designed to help parents to explain dementia to their children.

Ms Sterrey has dedicated her latest book to the carers, she added: “Many adults, including myself, unless they have researched it, or know someone with dementia, might not know how to react to or help someone with dementia. There is a great opportunity in schools and nurseries to teach children this topic to help children to understand dementia, using the book as a tool for them to relate to.

“I feel it is important for schools and nurseries to understand that and if they can help, they should.”

The Buttercup Game is avaliable to buy on Amazon here:


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