In Contented Dementia, Oliver James offers his 24 hour wraparound care advice for people who are looking after someone with Dementia. James is a clinical psychologist and bestselling author who lays out his practical method for managing dementia in a way that will allow both carer and sufferer’ (his term, not ours) to maintain the highest possible quality of life, throughout every stage of the illness. 

The first part of this book lays out the premise for the authors theory, which all centres around his mother in law, Penny, who cared for her mother Dorothy before taking the skills she had learned from Dorothys dementia to help more people at a specialised hospital in Oxfordshire. Her method is referred to as SPECAL (Specialised Early Care for Alzheimers) and the book aims to pass these learnings on to anyone who is currently caring for someone with dementia and needs help and guidance.  

James lays out the three fundamentals of the SPECAL method, which are: 

  • Do not ask questions 
  • Learn from them as they are the experts on their disability 
  • Always agree with everything they say, never interrupting them 

Penny asserts that as the person with Dementia is unable to retain new information, their old memories remain intact, unaffected by the illness and her method, interpreted by James over a year of observation and interview, offers insights in to how to utilise this information to enable a Contented’ journey with Dementia. 

This theory sounds good on paper and Pennys expertise is undeniable, however the entire theory is based on one womans experience and viewpoint. It is unlikely to work for every person diagnosed with dementia, as the symptoms and reactions of people vary so widely. Some might view the first question as quite patronising – denying the person you are caring for any autonomy over their future by refusing to ask them questions, could be divisive, especially for those displaying mild symptoms who are still able to make choices and decisions for themselves. Choosing to only work on the premise of old memories also could be seen to isolate the person from their surroundings and current family members.  

Conversely, others herald the teachings as revolutionary and life saving – asserting that the SPECAL method has delivered precisely what it promised – a contented dementia. Whatever your views, this book would most certainly be beneficial to anyone who is affected by dementia as a starting point to care, or to decide that this is definitely not the route you want to take! The SPECAL method has had undeniable results for many people but if it isnt something that will work as a whole, there are definitely parts of Pennys learnings that will be beneficial and resonate with those who read it. 

Like Gina Ford and her Contented Baby book, Contented Dementia is not going to be everyones cup of tea, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for help and advice so that they can adapt and extract the information and advice that will work for them and their journey.