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Reading Friends

Somebody I used to know

Written by Wendy Mitchell
02 April 2019

Wendy Mitchell, author of ‘Somebody I Used to Know’, has always loved reading, particularly at bedtime. A novel of some description is permanently at the side of her bed, ready to transport her to another world. After being diagnosed with young-onset dementia in July 2014 she set about finding other ways to keep reading.

My dementia diagnosis

So often when people hear the word ‘dementia’ they think of the end stages. I was diagnosed with young-onset dementia in July 2014. Once me and my daughters got our heads around the diagnosis, I wasn’t prepared to accept it was the end. There’s always a way to overcome the problems we face. People forget there’s a middle with so many adventures still to be had. I have always loved reading, particularly at bedtime. A novel of some description is permanently at the side of my bed, ready to transport me to another world. Once I found myself unable to read the much-loved novels of old. I set about finding other ways to keep reading and I would urge anyone else to do the same.

When I was diagnosed with dementia, I didn’t stop reading immediately. I still read novels and thrillers and turned my mind to intriguing crime tales. It crept up on me quietly, slowly, just when I wasn’t watching. I don’t remember the last time I read a novel – so many last times happen without my realising. Suddenly the plot disappeared from the previous night; the characters’ names became jumbled and confused. I imagine that I felt sad as this habit disappeared from my routine, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from dementia, it’s that it’s not worth dwelling on the losses. I won’t give it the satisfaction of seeing me mourn. Following my mantra, ‘there’s always a way’, I set about trying to find replacement night-time reading material.

Finding the right material

At first I tried magazines for short articles, but it didn’t feel the same as holding a book in my hands. It was only when I went to the library that I found a collection of Quick Reads. The books are short, large print books by some by my favourite authors, including Agatha Christie, Maeve Binchy, Alexander McCall Smith and many more. I was once again in book heaven. So much so, however, that I soon made my way through the whole shelf – and sadly realised that the supply was limited. One day I picked up a book I already owned and read it again from cover to cover, its content totally new, a mystery once more. So dementia does have its advantages: the joys of reading your favourite books over and over again!

One Christmas my daughter Gemma gave me a copy of Marian Keyes’ Under the Duvet and Further under the Duvet. Both books consist of short articles, and are looking very well used now after being read about ten times each. I’m sure they must make me chuckle in the same places, but each time I pick them up it feels like the first time. In the introduction of one, Keyes states ‘that you can let the book fall open on a random page and just start reading it (unless you’ve read it already).’ Well, they both delight me, no matter how many times I read them!

The lovely people at Bloomsbury once sent me Fox 8 by George Saunders, which is a short book written from the viewpoint of a fox with simple, charming illustrations. It’s a wonderful yet tragic tale, and the language of ‘fox speak’ tests my brain each time I read it.

Rediscovering the joy of reading

I love wandering around bookshops and randomly taking books off a shelf. One day Gemma and I found ourselves heading into the children’s section and suddenly the memories of the girls’ childhood came flooding back. But more importantly, this experience helped me rediscover the joy of reading children’s books. Why should they solely be for children? They’re often full of unbelievably detailed illustrations that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Beside my bed at the moment is a pile of Happy Families by Allan Ahlberg and The Jolly Pocket Postman – favourites I used to read to my children and which I’m now enjoying all over again. The books I once read to my two lovely daughters now bring me the same joy they brought to them.

Get involved

Reading Well for dementia recommends books you might find helpful if you have dementia, are caring for someone with dementia or would like to find out more about the condition. Find out more about the scheme, here.

You can also read some of Wendy’s recommended books.

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