New Zealand drew a collective awww of sadness at the news Kiwi cooking legend Dame Alison Holst is suffering from dementia. What Kiwi home in the 70s, 80s and 90s didn't have at least one of her cook books on the shelves? It's been lovely to see the outpouring of support for Dame Alison and her family in tweets, Facebook posts, media articles, opinion pieces and blogs, and in conversations around office water coolers. I particularly loved Campbell Live's tribute to her legacy with her chef son Simon baking his mum's all time favourite recipe on the show.
It's also heartening that so many of us are now talking openly about this cruel, relentless and all too common disease. I watched first-hand as it slowly stole my Nana away from my family over a decade of gradual decline. It's become a bit of a "pet" subject for me and I am drawn to books that deal with dementia. Here's a few of my favs, both fiction and non-fiction, that deal honestly but respectfully with the subject.
Still Alice - Lisa Genova
You've probably heard of this novel now because of its famous, Oscar winning movie starring Julianne Moore. Beautifully and touchingly written, it is the story of Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics expert who tragically begins losing the very thing she has built her successful career around - language. We follow her as her brain is besieged by early onset Alzheimer's, and the devastating impact on her and her loving family.
As a staggering true fact, Lisa Genova originally could not get a publishing deal for this novel so self published it: it's now sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Making the Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat - David Dosa
Like many cats, Oscar enjoys the good life: as the resident feline at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, he spends his days chasing his tail til he's dizzy and sleeping in the sun. But soon the staff of the Rhode Island facility notice something extraordinary: usually Oscar, in true cat fashion, ignores the patients. Until that is, he senses they are nearing their death. Then, Oscar will stride purposely into a patient's room, curl up on the bed, and begin his vigil, staying with the patient until their passing and bringing comfort and companionship to them and their families.
There were many tears shed during my reading of this beautiful non-fiction book!
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Unreliable narrators are huge in fiction right now and they don't come much more unreliable than dementia sufferer Maud. Naturally no one is going to listen to someone who is losing their memory, but Maud is adamant her friend Elizabeth is missing and she must help find her. But Maud is also seized by memories of her sister's disappearance decades before. What is real and what is her mind playing cruel tricks on her?
This is a real page turner of a thriller that's also compassionate and realistic of the impact of dementia on those who care for sufferers.
This memoir reminds me a little of Still Alice but in real life. Dr Harvey Gralnick is a gifted doctor and blood disorder researcher cruelly struck down in his mid-fifties by early onset Alzheimer's. This unflinchingly honest and poignant story is told by his wife Meryl, a broadcasting journalist who gives up her career to nurse her husband at home. Meryl doesn't want your pity or your praise for her selfless sacrifices - and they are abundant. Instead she tells her story in the hope of raising awareness of, and trying to get more research undertaken on, this silent thief of minds.
I read this book in two sittings and was grabbed from the start by both Meryl's candour, and the dignified and respectful way she writes about her husband's descent into dementia.