Speaking Our Minds: What It's like to Have Alzheimer's

Article excerpt

SPEAKING OUR MINDS: WHAT IT'S LIKE TO HAVE ALZHEIMER'S Lisa Snyder Baltimore, MD: Health Professions Press, 2009 Revised Edition, 184 pp. (softcover), $21.95

The author, a clinical social worker, has developed her interest in the human side of caring for patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) without sacrificing a solid scientific basis for her studies and in this publication. The first edition of this work (1999) established for the author a solid reputation in discerning the real human being still alive within the demented mask of AD. Although she works in an academic environment, this is not an academic text, although as a new edition, it is updated. "Speaking Our Minds expresses the thoughts, feelings, concerns, and experiences of seven persons with Alzheimer's . . ." (Preface). In fact, the readers of this material are expected largely to be early diagnosed individuals with dementia. This book speaks to them, as they speak to us, readers not so diagnosed (at least not yet).

Snyder is not the first in this field to identify that several qualities of human intelligence and human emotion remain functional for persons with this disorder (see subsequent section for discussion of music). But she is among the most eloquent and persuasive, with a fine expressive gift. For instance, while reviewing advances in the field, she notes "It seemed as if a whole new instrument was being introduced in the orchestra of Alzheimer's" (p. xviii).

The heart of this work flows from the author's intention to collect "verbal or written reflections from individuals with Alzheimer's" (p. 111). There are seven stories here, each evoking "a personal definition of the disease" (p. 11).

A book reviewer must select points to emphasize. As a physician I was struck by the following in Bea's story:

The doctors put me through every test imaginable, and I was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. . . . The last person who interviewed me was the neurologist. He was very indifferent and said it was just going to get worse. It wasn't professional as far as I'm concerned. If he had just shown a little compassion. . . . but he wasn't there to understand my feelings. He had no feelings for me whatsoever. I've hated him ever since. (p. 19)

Another story, about Bill, concerns a man forced to retire from his intellectually enticing job at the age of 54 years. This points up the fact Alzheimer's is not a disorder of the aged alone. It is worth remembering that decades ago, before our life spans grew to be so extended, this condition was known as presenile dementia. …