Depicting Dementia: Representations of Cognitive Health and Illness in Ten Picturebooks for Children

Elizabeth Caldwell, Sarah Falcus, Katsura Sako

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


It is estimated that a third of children know someone living with dementia, and there are now many picturebooks for young children that help to explain the changes dementia can bring to family life. Despite their number, there has been little examination of what these books communicate about health and illness. To address this, the current study presents a close visual and textual analysis of 10 recent picturebooks in English that aim to teach children about dementia. Our analysis reveals that in these books dementia is exclusively framed in terms of ageing, and as an illness of older adults. Furthermore, the books rely heavily on mechanistic metaphors to explain the causes of dementia. However, at the same time the “still the same person” narrative is dominant. This narrative emphasises the importance of foregrounding the unique history and personality of the person living with dementia, and offers a way to help children to continue meaningful relationships with their relatives. These books employ often ageist tropes of decline in the depiction of dementia and yet at the same time support a narrative of ongoing personhood, reflecting the complexity of broader social discourses around dementia and selfhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-131
Number of pages26
JournalChildren's Literature in Education
Issue number1
Early online date14 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


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