Imaginative Dementia

Everyone says that walking is a great activity for those with dementia. So, on our Lake District break, we just started walking … and stopped four hours later.

Coming down the country lane towards us, a silver-haired couple with all the right gear: wind jackets, backpacks, walking boots and poles. Us? We were clearly amateurs. Shoes for city pavements, casual jumpers, and a shopping bag slung across my shoulder. But we weren’t there for a walking holiday. It was just a spur of the moment decision to follow a signpost.


Wordsworth country then. We probably wouldn’t go all the way, but it was a lovely afternoon for a stroll. And we were well-provisioned, with a couple of oranges and a packet of crisps in my bag.

After an hour on the trail, we’d learnt the country code. At about ten yards distance a smile, then a nod, eye-contact with each of the passers-by.

– Afternoon.

– Afternoon.

They were past, and walked away out of my life. But not Lena’s.

– That’s exactly where we saw them yesterday.

A month ago, I’d have reminded her that this time yesterday we were a hundred miles away. And that we’d never been here before. And probably never seen the couple. But I’m learning that it’s not worth arguing with Alzheimer’s logic.

– Mmm.

She’ll probably see them in the same place tomorrow, back at home in Salford. Unless, by a trillion to one chance, we actually do see them. Then she’ll deny it.


Lake District sheepThey could easily have called it The Sheep District – although perhaps that wouldn’t have the same tourist appeal.  Sheep are everywhere, grazing mostly, or sleeping. Lambs too at this time of year, bleating piteously half-way up a hillside, or vigorously pushing at a mother’s teats, little tails twirling.

All white, black-faced. Except for one, who stood watching us cautiously, wall-eyed, a few feet away.  Brown – and Lena called out:

– Baa baa brown sheep black …

Now if only I could come up with a tune.


There’s something about walking that seems to set the creative juices flowing. Not walking from A to B, just walking for the sake of it.

Every few minutes on that four-hour walk, Lena spotted something that reminded her of her brothers, her parents, the family summer-house in the Swedish countryside. A bluebell-carpeted bank, a glimpse of the stream below.

She struggles sometimes to name and place things, but there’s nothing wrong with her vision or imagination.

– Look at those trees.

There are a hundred trees.  What’s she looking at?

– Where? Over there?

– Yes, two together … look, my brothers made one like that.

Two? Ah. I saw it. Two low-lying branches, coiled together, tensioned, a natural catapult at the side of the stream.

– So was it somewhere you played?

– Yes they were so nice to me. They always let me play.

Visions of little sister Lena being shot through the air.  No, surely not!


We turned a corner on the track, and Lena gasped.

– Look at HIM!

– Who? There’s no-one here.

– No. Him! Look at his face.

– What are you talking about? There’s no face.

– No here. Come here.

She pulled me to her, pointed.  And there, in the bank, he was. The watcher on the road.

The watcher on the road

– Afternoon.

No response this time.

But then he’s not a walker, and we won’t see him in Salford tomorrow. He’ll stay right here with his memories locked in forever. Invisible to everyone – except those who have the imagination to see him.


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