I park the car outside Sant'Eugenio Hospital in Rome and thread my way through the crowd of visitors, doctors and patients in pyjamas and dressing gowns, all enjoying a breath of fresh air. Ambulance sirens are wailing in the distance. I enter the large, stark and dismal hall and head towards the geriatric ward.
Today, as on every first Thursday of the month, the support group organized for the relatives of Alzheimer patients meets here. There are more people than usual and I see many new faces. At the start of the meeting, newcomers are always invited to speak. Some are ready to talk, others prefer silence, reluctant to describe their hardships in front of so many strangers. People of all ages are gathered together with the same aim: how best to deal with the Alzheimer patient, how best to answer his needs without losing one's sanity, how to cope with the moments of discouragement, helplessness or even merely irritation in the face of persistent irrationality, how to carry out the daily tasks without offending the sufferer's dignity, and how not to despair at the sight of a loved one inexorably slipping away a little more each day. These are the problems which a family must face and there is infinite pain in the eyes of those present, yet coupled with a desire to continue hoping.
Sometimes a spouse or a son or daughter hesitates to ask questions, fearing to lose their remaining illusions, clinging to