Alzheimer’s Daughter introduces the reader to my healthy parents, Ed and Ibby, years before their diagnosis, then recounts painful details as our roles reversed and I became my parents’ parent.
Their disease started as translucent, confused thoughts and ended in a locked memory care unit after a near decade of descent into the opaque world of Alzheimer's.
I began writing Alzheimer’s Daughter one week after my mother's death––when I was stunned, realizing Dad had no memory of her or their 66-year marriage.
I write to pay tribute to the undying spirit at Ed and Ibby's core, and with the hope that the story of their parallel decline might be helpful to others.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
A Novelist Meditates on Writing about Alzheimer’s
By Marita Golden
I didn’t choose. I was called. That’s how inspiration, art, and creativity work sometimes. I am often asked why I wrote a novel about Alzheimer’s disease.
I am not caring for anyone afflicted with it and no one in my family, from what I know, has ever been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s. So there was nothing in my life, my past or my then-present to explain the fictional expedition I launched. This is what happened: I was trapped inside the wrong story. I had written 100 pages of a novel that was going nowhere very fast. So I stopped, took a breath and gave the process over quite literally to a higher power. I was willing to “let it be.” Two weeks later I was writing the story of a wife who finds herself and the nature and meaning of love transformed as she cares for her husband who has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes as a writer you get called, summoned to dive in, to plunge into the terrifying beauty of a completely unknown narrative landscape. When you report for duty, that is when you know you are writer.
Four years later, after hearing the stories of those with Alzheimer’s, their caretakers, the professionals who care for them, the families who are burdened and sometimes buoyed by the demands of the disease, the researchers trying to find a cure, the was novel finished. I realized that I had started out as a novelist and ended up as not only a novelist, but an activist/advocate for greater awareness about the epidemic of Alzheimer’s in Black America.
I met adult children who found themselves stunned and incompetent in the face of a parent’s diminished capacity, and others who unflinchingly faced the disease and embraced their parent with the kind of transcendent love and loyalty of which they never knew themselves capable. I gave a 20-minute talk and reading about my life as writer before a group of residents of a memory care unit. They taught me to be here now, the value of the present moment and that they are indeed present, sensitive, intuitive. They remember the most important things--the meaning of human touch, an honest look in someone’s eyes, that a whole story can be told in a fleeting fragment of an iridescent memory of joy, and that words are often overrated.
But it was the statistics that turned me into an activist/advocate, that convinced me that maybe I was the right vessel to capture, contain and pour this story into the hearts and minds of readers. Statistics reveal a “silent storm” raging in the Black community. If Alzheimer’s is a crisis for America, it is an epidemic for Black America. African Americans are twice as likely as whites to develop the disease, are only three percent of those enrolled in trial to find a cure, and could be 40% of all those with Alzheimer’s by 2050.
Sometimes a story asks to be written and then asks to be used as a platform. My novel, The Wide Circumference of Love, about the Tate family, Gregory, Diane, Lauren and Sean is a story for everyone who has been alive long enough to hurt and heal, to feel coursing through their blood the strange strength borne of all we are sure we cannot bear.
All art is political, and social, and at its best engages in a frenzied dance with everything being thought and lived and denied and discovered swirling around it.
A story is never “just a story”. A book is never “just a book.” A story, a book, can set the world on fire or give a writer, or a reader, something to believe in or fight for.
About the Author:
Her new novel is The Wide Circumference of Love. Her other books include the novels, After and The Edge of Heaven and the memoirs Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons and Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex. She is the recipient of many awards, including the Writers for Writers Award presented by Barnes & Noble and Poets and Writers and the Fiction Award for her novel After awarded by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
Her cover story for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine on African Americans and Alzheimer’s diease can be found here:
African Americans are more likely than whites to develop Alzheimer’s. Why?
Connect with Marita:
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
I was six years into my medical training – a second year resident in family medicine – when I saw the first patient who I now know had Alzheimer’s disease. A middle-aged man brought her in, explaining that she was his mother and that the family was at wits end. His mother didn’t seem sick, he explained, but she couldn’t remember “anything,” made poor decisions, and would wander off and get lost if left alone. In the examining room, she wouldn’t sit down. From my limited history and examination, it was clear that she had a problem involving memory, judgment, and communication. This was not a little forgetfulness, it was a progressive problem that the family was struggling to understand and cope with. I asked my faculty preceptor what to do, and he had no idea. I still remember how helpless I felt, because something was so wrong and yet I had nothing to offer. It was 1977.
In the forty years since then, so much has changed and yet so little. Back then we called it senility and knew almost nothing about it; today we can talk at great length about the different cognitive disorders, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most prominent, and about amyloid precursor protein, tau microfilaments, PET image studies, and so on. Back then it seemed rare; today it’s a leading cause of death and disability – widespread and widely recognized. But the impact on families hasn’t changed at all.
Since then, much of my career and life has focused on aging, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. I obtained certification in geriatric medicine; worked in nursing homes, assisted living and home care settings; authored 18 books, including a textbook of geriatric medicine; and conducted numerous research studies on Alzheimer’s care. My mother, who died at 98, and my father-in-law, who died at 87, both had cognitive disorders and died after a long period of illness. I developed training programs for doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, and other professional caregivers on diagnosis and management of persons with dementia. All of this was part of a general awakening among health professionals of the challenges family caregivers face providing day-to-day care of a loved one.
The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor: A Caregiver’s Guide was written to help share with family caregivers the practical knowledge that has accumulated during the past 40 years. A major focus of the book is helping family caregivers know what to do when confronted with new or worsening symptoms – from medical problems like abdominal pain, cough, and diarrhea; to behavioral symptoms such as hitting, hollering, or refusing care; to more vague issues like not eating well. It also contains sections on working with the health care system, medications, watching for conditions such as pain and dehydration, and self-care advice for caregivers. An advisory group of nine family caregivers helped shape the book. Dozens of health professionals and students contributed background research, thanks in part to financial support from the National Institutes of Health. To make the book attractive and easy to read, we partnered with a nationally-prominent graphics designer. To field test an early version of the book, 50 family caregivers used it for six months and told us what they liked and what needed to be changed. Our final book was published in July of this year (2017) by Sunrise River Press. Feedback has been gratifyingly positive.
About the Author
The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor (Sunrise River Press, 2017) is available from major retailers like Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and from the Sunrise River Press website.
Sunrise River Press