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Dialect and Dementia: Reading Beyond The Silences

My grandmother Anne is eighty-two years old, she moved to London in 1962 from British Guyana to start a new life in Shepherd’s Bush with her husband and daughter. For all of my twenty-one years, she has maintained a recognisable amount of her Guyanese accent. 

It wasn’t a shock when she began to forget things. With age comes memory decline right? Wrong, but as she began to forget places and people she’d known for years I quickly realised that this memory loss was more dramatic than most. 

In June 2015, Granny Anne was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (a memory condition subset within dementia). Alzheimer's is a physical disease that affects the brain, symptoms include memory loss, decreased motor and vision skills and the restriction of speech. 500,000 people suffer from Alzheimer's disease each year in the UK, yet we rarely hear about its impact on generational cultural identities. Instead, the media focus on a generalised blanket experience of Dementia within the English population. 

Going through this journey of diagnosis with my grandmother has emphasised the fragility of my own cultural identity as a second generation immigrant. You see, a generalised ‘Caribbean’ culture can be found in the language, food and music of the UK. But often what is deemed as Caribbean culture is simply Jamaican with a liccle bit’ a salt. My Guyanese heritage isn’t necessarily reflected in the streets of London, subsequently most of my connection to my homeland stems directly through my grandmother.