Bilingual book of poems and stories about living with dementia to launch in October

A bilingual collection of poems and stories about living with dementia, written by author Danijela Hlis, is set for release in October 2017. 

The book titled Forget me nots/Spomincice is written in Slovenian and English and it has received a grant from the Slovenian Ministry of Arts and Culture. 

With 45 years of writing behind her and two previous published books, (Hideaway Serenade and Whisper), Danijela has used her writing talents as well as her experiences with people living with dementia to produce the new book.

For bilingual individuals living with dementia, reversion to their first language is common. Without support and engagement tailored to the individual’s language and culture, communication difficulties and isolation can occur.  

In these situations, basic communication and engagement in activities can be very difficult.

As well as authoring several books, Danijela is one of the much-needed people of a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background providing this support and engagement to people living with dementia.

Previously working as a translator, Danijela is fluent in English, Italian, French and Slovenian, and reasonably proficient in Spanish and Croatian.

Danijela believes that art is key to quality of life for people living with dementia and a particularly effective form of communication and expression when there is a language barrier or if words fail.

“Through music, painting, literature, dance, sculpture, flower arrangements etc. people living with dementia can participate, feel empowered to explore, share and learn. Any community, any race, any culture can blossom under the umbrella of arts,” she said.  

“I started writing stories and poems about life with dementia over 10 years ago, while caring for my mother and working as a bi-cultural social support worker with various organisations, and a diversional therapist in an Italian day centre,” she said. 

“I can say that in these past 15 years or so, I have lived acutely tuned into the feelings and experiences of people from culturally diverse background, who have dementia. The book is the result of this and I want to share it with readers both in my country of birth, Slovenia, and Australia, which is now my home.
  
Danijela believes that there should be greater inclusion and participation of people with CALD backgrounds in research. 

“Life of a person with dementia who has limited English, and was born overseas, is very different to that of an Australian born. And for the carer too, as finding appropriate respite is often very difficult,” she said.

“I am driven by memories of my mother, my aunt, my friend Owna, and others, my enchanting clients, whose sometimes sad experiences could have been avoided if: we had more research done among CALD and Aboriginal communities; had better training in cultural diversity for people working with people with dementia; had better awareness of bi cultural tools available to staff; had increased awareness of isolation and fear of someone who, due to dementia, is reverting back to mother tongue, not being understood and not being able to communicate the most basic requests-like ‘please show me the toilet’.”

“There will never be enough bi cultural carers to provide culture appropriate care; even in a family it is hard. One of my clients stopped conversing in English, his wife and daughter were Australian and so the only one who could talk to him was me in Italian. How he sang O sole mio with me! This is why art in any form is essential for a healthy quality of life.”

Five per cent of all sales from the book will go to Dementia Australia and Alzheimer’s Slovenia. Any inquiries about the book can be directed to Danijela at: bonjourjoie@netspace.net.au