January 28, 2015

Reading List: Books About Alzheimer’s

By Erica R. Hendry

Our book for January’s Readers’ Review, “Still Alice,” tells the story of a brilliant Harvard psychologist struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The story, now a major motion picture, has been praised for its realistic portrayal of the disease. But there are also a few others that make good resources for people or families dealing with a diagnosis, our panelist Stefan Merrill Block says.

Here are some of his recommendations:

Fiction:

This finely observed family epic — written in a voice that is at once lucid, unsparing, empathetic and hopeful — is the best depiction of Alzheimer’s disease that I’ve read. An ideal companion to “Still Alice,” Thomas’ book offers the sort of exquisite, panoramic vision of a family in crisis that only great fiction can. This novel asks the same troubling question that Alzheimer’s disease forces on every life it touches: When shared memories and understanding fade, what still holds a family together? This humane and deeply felt book is Thomas’ answer.

Of the many attempts to imagine life inside the mind of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, “The Wilderness” feels the truest to me. Harvey channels the spirit of Virginia Woolf in this nuanced, complex portrait of a disintegrating identity. This is a subtle, nimble, luminous novel that places the reader in the shifting sands of dementia, where even the most vital memories become suspect.

Non-fiction:

This is the first book I would recommend to anyone looking for a general understanding of Alzheimer’s and its historical and scientific contexts. Shenk is a great storyteller, illuminating his expansive vision with a number of riveting examples.

Though Alzheimer’s might rob its sufferers of the ability to describe the internal experience of the disease’s late stages, DeBaggio’s heroic, unflinching, heartbreaking account of his own descent into Alzheimer’s takes us all the way to the dark side of that moon. Written in a fragmentary, elliptical style, DiBaggio makes his splintering perception feel like our own.

 

These two memoirs, both written by authors who have lived in the public eye, offer beautiful, wrenching accounts of the caregiver’s dilemma: How do you relate to a loved one who is no longer the person you knew? Bayley and Keaton brilliantly capture both the daily, arduous burdens of care taking and the deeper story of a love uninterrupted by the transformations and degradation of this terrible disease.

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