If you ever doubted that Alzheimer's introduces chaos into extended families, this book will make you a believer. Eleanor describes how her mother's AIf you ever doubted that Alzheimer's introduces chaos into extended families, this book will make you a believer. Eleanor describes how her mother's Alzheimer's not only damaged her memory, but Mary Durant's emotions and her relationships with others. Eleanor and her partner Mitch move Mary from Connecticut to live near them in California.
As I have read in various memoirs, there is never a quick fix with Alzheimer's. The ground is always shifting, so the family caregivers must constantly adjust the type of care the person with dementia receives. After moving her mother to California, Eleanor has to change her mother's housing multiple times to various types of facilities. So much paperwork.
Eleanor's mother spent decades as an intelligent, passionate and independent woman. This made her unwilling to follow anyone's lead as her dementia took away her ability to function independently. Eleanor spent hours caring for her mother, but it was never enough. This took its toll on Eleanor, her partner and their relationship. This lead to an increase dependency on Valium and alcohol to face the challenges of being a caregiver.
Interspersed in the account of Mary's time in California are flashbacks to her life in New York and Connecticut. Mary worked primarily as an editor and writer but also did some modeling. She was married three times and had numerous lovers as well. She in you younger years was part of a jet set crowd and mingled with the likes of director John Huston. For 25 years, she was married to a mature, grounded and 12-years-her-junior environmentalist activist named Mike Harwood. They lived in a small town in Connecticut. Mike dies and a few years later she moves to California. She never finds her equilibrium after losing the love of her life and her familiar surroundings.
Melinek, medical examiner, takes readers behind the scenes. With equal parts of horror and fascination, I learned about the truths a body tells aboutMelinek, medical examiner, takes readers behind the scenes. With equal parts of horror and fascination, I learned about the truths a body tells about the manner of death. She describes cases that are dramatic for one reason or another--some are freak accidents, some are medical oddities, and many are murders. The most compelling chapter is the one where she describes working with the remains from 9/11. Even though she did this work early in her time working in Manhattan, she makes this one of the last chapters. And with reason. The enormity of the work and the emotional quality of the work was overwhelming for her (and for me as a reader; it was the only time I cried while reading her book).
Not for the fainthearted, but very fascinating. I applaud people who have the skill and constitution to perform this important work. ...more
Thomason read a lot of great material in order to write this book (which I think was probably a master's thesis or dissertation). I agreed with almostThomason read a lot of great material in order to write this book (which I think was probably a master's thesis or dissertation). I agreed with almost all of it. I did graduate work in English and graduate work in gerontology, so a lot of her source material was familiar to me. She did conduct interviews unique to her book. I enjoyed "meeting" the women she interviewed. However, I found the book lacked focus and needed a stronger framework and a clearer linear argument (but maybe that is my male-centric graduate training at work?)
The biggest coup? Ordering "In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life" by Allan B. Chinnen, which Thomason mentions in her book. Chinnen read 4,000 fairytales and found only 2% had older people as protagonists. He collected 15 of these elder tales in the above book. Squee! ...more
While I do feel bad for the author's intimacy challenges, I was more interested in his vocation as a remover than his many meaningless sexual encounteWhile I do feel bad for the author's intimacy challenges, I was more interested in his vocation as a remover than his many meaningless sexual encounters. I wish him well in overcoming the trauma of his parent's failed marriage. ...more
Bernstein offers some principles for healthy living during late midlife and late life. But more compelling are his anecdotes from his medical practiceBernstein offers some principles for healthy living during late midlife and late life. But more compelling are his anecdotes from his medical practice as a geriatrician in Clearwater, Florida. Over 25 plus years, Bernstein worked with people in the second half of life on managing their health, their environment and their attitude. He offers up more than a dozen "case studies," including a handful of his own relatives.
On the one hand, there are some clear directives that correlate with good health: diet, exercise, smoking cessation and a positive mental attitude. On the other hand, everyone ages and everyone dies. And it's not always possible to predict and control that process.
I enjoyed reading the narratives of several interesting patients. Bernstein writes with great warmth while also explaining some common age-related ailments. I felt as though I had spent an evening chatting with him about his area of expertise and how I can benefit from his decades of experience. ...more
Oh, this book was painful yet mesmerizing to read. The book is a collection of letters written by a creative writing professor at a small university (Oh, this book was painful yet mesmerizing to read. The book is a collection of letters written by a creative writing professor at a small university (Payne). He writes letters of recommendation for students, faculty, administrators and writers (published or not).
Because I worked for English departments for over 20 years, the absurdities of higher education, of the field of humanities, and the world of creative writing were all too familiar (such as the campus fracas over the use of a colon in a university document). I found the most absurd passages to ring the most true.
As we read a series of letters penned by Dr. Jason T. Fitger, we learn entirely too much about his self-serving trajectory from a young writer to a jaded tenured professor. Through background stories, digressions, queries to colleagues for favors and forgiveness. and footnotes (you MUST read the footnotes), we also learn about his haphazard love life and his many on-campus feuds. Nevertheless, I hold some affection for Jay. His deft use of language (albeit very self-serving) is admirable.
If offered the opportunity to socialize with the dean, the provost, the internship director, an economics professor or Jay, I would choose to dine with Jay. Now Schumacher needs to write one of Jay's fictitious novels. (I choose Stain, but Schumacher needs to reinsert the love scene conducted on manuscript pages.) ...more
Gawande presents complex ideas in a very readable format. He deftly weaves together technical detail, research data, anecdotes from his surgery practiGawande presents complex ideas in a very readable format. He deftly weaves together technical detail, research data, anecdotes from his surgery practice and meditation on the question of how people should work with medical professionals to best manage their final years.
The short version: there is no easy answer.
Longer version: Despite the medical advances of the last fifty years, people still don't have perfect control over illness, aging, or dying. There's a lot of guesswork, chaos and suffering during end-of-life for most people. Gawande gently suggests that people reject the paternalistic model of medical intervention (doctor dictates) and the information-dispensing model (doctor has the patient make all treatment choices). Even in his own practice, he's been slow to adopt the third model: doctor-guided decisions.
Gawande recognizes that patients are not medical experts, and they are often overwhelmed by their health status. But patients can usually articulate what they want for themselves (i.e., being pain free, or being alert with some pain). If patients will tell their doctors their goals, then the doctor can sort through the technical detail to create a treatment plan that has the best chance of securing that goal.
Nevertheless, people still go through chaos during end-of-life. They live on shifting sand and must constantly reevaluate their status and their choices. Even Gawande's own father (a doctor himself, a urologist) had a rocky path through his last years.
Chaos notwithstanding, I value learning what I can about the doctor-patient relationship and about the various strategies people might take when responding to serious health problems and the cascade of medical problems that usually appear during people's last days, weeks or months.
Dying well is a difficult challenge now that we have so many choices on how to intervene. Gawande offers an emotionally grounded, technically rich, wise statement to the discussion. ...more
The book has a very fun premise, which involves a community that is extremely fixated on the sentence: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. IThe book has a very fun premise, which involves a community that is extremely fixated on the sentence: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. In exploring how the residents all but worship this sentence and its creator, Dunn succeeds in exploring the elasticity and the limits of language while also exploring the elasticity and limits of community.
A satire, a word puzzle, a fun romp through a language-obsessed fantasy world. At times it got a bit predictable and gimmicky. I wished it were about 50 pages shorter in the middle. Otherwise, it was very delightful. A great choice for people who enjoy crossword puzzles and other word games. ...more
Ignatieff's novel examines dementia from various lenses. The narrator/protagonist is a philosophy professor who considers how dementia exposes the dynIgnatieff's novel examines dementia from various lenses. The narrator/protagonist is a philosophy professor who considers how dementia exposes the dynamic interconnections among identity, relationship and existence. His only other sibling is a brother who is a neurobiologist. As a scientist, his take is more mechanical--documenting how the disease progresses through brain tissue. The person with dementia is their mother, who has early onset dementia. She is a painter in addition to being a wife, a mother and a grandmother.
The book is thoughtful, lyric, gritty, messy and at times very sweet. I have been reading books about dementia for the past four years, and I can't believe it took me this long to find this one. It's very thought provoking. The author is Canadian, and he's spent years working in England. But this novel is set in the US. ...more
Wilder asks some very big questions about the meaning of life and the manifestations of love in this novel that is full of small details.
Wilder examiWilder asks some very big questions about the meaning of life and the manifestations of love in this novel that is full of small details.
Wilder examines the particulars of five very different people from Lima, Peru--three with more attention (a rich widow, a young man who was a foundling along with his twin, an illegitimate aristocrat who had a hand in multiple trades, some of them a bit shady) than two others (the widow's teenage maid and a seven-year-old boy). These five were united in the manner of their death when the bridge they were crossing suddenly snapped in two.
Each life is narrated very differently and in ways influenced by Wilder's education in literature from England, Italy, Spain, France and colonial Peru. It's necessary to read each character's story in three ways: 1) as it's own tale of a person 2) as a manifestation of Wilder's reading habits and 3) as a thread in the tapestry of the entire novel (the philosophical / theological questions set forth in the early pages).
As the novel progresses, the relationships among these seemingly unrelated characters grow more complex. We also learn that they have connections to others in Lima: the viceroy, a famous actress, the abbess, a sea captain, the archebishop.
The setting is early 18th century Lima, Peru when Spanish colonizers ran the city and the Catholic church framed their lives. We are invited to consider the significance of their death by observing a Franciscan priest--Father Juniper--undergo an overt study of their lives. Father Juniper hopes to learn if their deaths were a complete accident or some part of a plan. Does God merely toy with us, or does He have a plan for how we live and how we die?
After getting to know each of these characters, we return to Father Juniper and to three bereaved survivors--three women mourning the loss of one or more of those who fell to their death. Juniper and the Lima Archbishop take the approach of trying to find the right theology in response to the deaths. In contrast, the three women try to find the right emotion and the right service in response to the deaths.
The book concludes with one of the most oft-quoted passages from the novel: "But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."
I can see how Wilder's novel has influenced Colum McCann's novel "Let the Great World Spin," which shows how victims of 911 ended up being connected to each other as discovered by survivors. I can hear Donne chime in with "No man is an island" as a retort to Shakespeare's "as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport." That line from Lear is paraphrased in Wilder's first few pages. So even if God is detached and cold, people can assert meaning by connecting to one another meaningfully -- by working together, living together, suffering together, serving one another -- loving one another. ...more
Porter writes a good overview about late adulthood for people who have avoided the topic by midlife. She gives a preview into various issues: financesPorter writes a good overview about late adulthood for people who have avoided the topic by midlife. She gives a preview into various issues: finances, health, social networks and attitude. If people in midlife (or better yet as young adults) start preparing for late adulthood early, they can have an easier time managing their aging process.
As a gerontologist, I have deeper stores of knowledge for almost every topic discussed. Nevertheless, I am impressed with how much information Porter conveys in her book and how she writes with such accessibility and clarity.
She starts with a compelling overview of how people can live longer by making healthy lifestyle choices. Then she divides the main chapters into advice for people based on their decade of life. 50s, 60s, 70s, then 80s and beyond. Each chapter discusses choices people can make with their eating, exercise, finances, social networks and attitudes that will help them maintain a good quality of life in late adulthood.
If want to be lucky enough to get old, read Porter's preview of how to manage this responsibly. ...more
For a reasonable admission price, Goodman gives us a tour of the marvels contained within the relationship she has with her father, Ross Ward. He's aFor a reasonable admission price, Goodman gives us a tour of the marvels contained within the relationship she has with her father, Ross Ward. He's a non-conformist with a life-long passion to create. He channels his creativity into drawing, painting, sculptures and more. Although Goodman ends up telling about events throughout her lifespan and her father's, this memoir is organized around his early-onset dementia--symptoms, diagnosis, progression through the disease and finally his passing.
This appearance of this devastating disease and his death all happen within just a few short years--maybe about six years, depending on pinpointing early symptoms in hindsight. He's in his late 50s when his memory and his moods start to change for the worse. This puts everyone around Ross into a tail spin. His wife Carla, his son Jason, and his daughter, Tanya. Dementia changes everyone's relationships, but because Tanya was living in California and trying to break into the screenwriting business, she has to overtly decide how she will respond to his diagnosis. She decides to move from LA to "Tinkertown," so that she can help her step-mother and support her father.
I would hesitate to say this is a book about dementia, because its about a number of things. Carnivals, museums, family drama, substance abuse, blended families, intergenerational connections, and the unpredictability of life.
Ward has created a miniature city called "Tinkertown." He also has some collectibles and a gift shop. He used to work the carnival circuit, painting rides. Ward spent years on the road and knows a number of carnies and a number of people who operate roadside attractions. His museum is located in Sandia Park, New Mexico (north of Albuquerque). Tanya includes a number of flashbacks to days when she went traveling with him on the road or watched him create a new item for his museum. Her childhood was a bit zany, but she conveys the details without any alarm about how exceptional this was. It was part and parcel of living with Ross. She clearly loves her father and learned how to roll with the opportunities of living with an impulsive, creative, driven person.
Despite all the challenges of such a childhood, Goodman foregrounds the opportunities and the love among the cast of characters that are her family members: Ross's father, Grandma Rose, gets a diagnosis of Alzheimer's around the same time as her son, making for some interesting caregiving moments. Carla has been Tanya's step-mom since Carla was a teen, but now these two women have to negotiate Ross's care as one adult woman working with another. Jason, Ross's tattoo artist son, has been detached from his father for years, but they have limited time to find a way to connect. And in the wings are Tanya's boyfriend, Jason's wife, and a couple of women who work in the gift shop. All are affected when Ross's dementia shakes things up.
The major themes that emerge are those that affect all family members--whether or not they experience a health crisis. Goodman just witnesses how dementia has a way of crystallizing family issues of trust, loyalty, love, commitment, communication, affection, memory and care. ...more
Singh's first book drew on her experience as a hospice worker. Here she describes the spiritual practices that prepare people for aging in general witSingh's first book drew on her experience as a hospice worker. Here she describes the spiritual practices that prepare people for aging in general with a good deal about how being aware of one's mortality can awaken you. Her writing is informed by Buddhism principles, but she quotes wisdom literature from several traditions.
This book is meant to be read slowly. Readers would be wise to put it down frequently in order to meditate and to write journal entries. The point isn't to absorb information, the point is to transform the soul. Her work as a transpersonal therapist is evident as well.
I plan on rereading this book from time to time as I move from midlife to late life. It's very rich. Here are a few quotes to demonstrate its content and tone:
"How kind and wise it would be to live these last years in presence, authenticity and radically simple sanity" (p. 13).
"Contemplating death can lead to a humbling, grateful acceptance of our own moment-by-moment fragility." (p. 24).
"To become an elder, more than simply elderly, we need a daily practice based on careful and carefully understood instructions" (p. 39).
"Aging offers a thousand opportunities to crash into our own beliefs, a thousand opportunities to crash into the truth of loss and impermanence" (p. 54).
"We now, in these last chapters of our life, have the time and the humility and the life wisdom to appreciate the preciousness of this fleeting experience" (p. 91).
"A deep opening to our own mortality brings us to our knees and down to the nitty-gritty" (p. 95).
"In many ways, ego can be described as the sum total of all of the defenses we created as children to avoid feeling hurt or frightened or forgotten....It is to wisely and compassionately liberate the space of our elder years from the habit patterns of a child" (p. 111, 112).
"Awakening as we age is a process of letting go, of offering up our previously cherished stories and illusions" (p. 125). ...more