Five years ago, Andrea Gillies - writer, wife, and mother of three - seeing that her husband's parents were struggling to cope, invited them to move in. She and her newly extended family relocated to a big Victorian house on a remote, windswept peninsula in the far north of Scotland, leaving behind their friends and all that was familiar; hoping to find a new life, and new inspiration for work.
Her mother-in-law Nancy was in the middle stages of Alzheimer's Disease, and Keeper charts her journey into dementia, its impact on her personality and her family, and the author's researches into what dementia is. As the grip of her disease tightens, Nancy's grasp on everything we think of as ordinary unravels before our eyes. Diary entries and accounts of conversations with Nancy track the slow unravelling. The journey is marked by frustration, isolation, exhaustion, and unexpected black comedy. For the author, who knew little about dementia at the outset, the learning curve was steeper than she could have imagined. The most pernicious quality of Alzheimer's, Gillies suggests, is that the loss of memory is, in effect, the loss of one's self, and Alzheimer's, because it robs us of our intrinsic self-knowledge, our ability to connect with others, and our capacity for self-expression, is perhaps the most terrible and most dehumanizing illness. Moreover, as Gillies reminds us, the effects of Alzheimer's are far-reaching, impacting the lives of caregivers and their loved ones in every way imaginable.
Keeper is a fiercely honest "glimpse into the dementia abyss" - an endlessly engrossing meditation on memory and the mind, on family, and on a society that is largely indifferent to the far-reaching ravages of this baffling disease.
Keeper won the U.K.'s Orwell Prize for political writing and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize for medical writing.
There are memoirs that inspire and there are memoirs that are inspired. Gillies's exceptional, award-winning account of caring for her ailing mother-in-law fits squarely into both categories... Punctuating her candid personal experiences and lots of medical information on Alzheimer's are glorious morsels of truth gleaned from the wisdom of the ages... This is not a feel-good book. At times, everyone's suffering is so raw it's painful. But this is also a beautiful, perceptive and inspiring book. Gillies may not be a saint but this experience makes her something of hero in my estimation. (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).
The Los Angeles Times - Carolyn Kellogg
In the '60s, it was " cancer"; in the '80s, "AIDS." Today "Alzheimer's" is the healthcare word that can freeze a pleasant dinner conversation. Maybe it's spoken in a whisper; maybe it's left unsaid. Not so by Andrea Gillies, who raises her voice in "Keeper" to describe in moving but unsentimental terms the day-to-day experience of caring for Nancy, her Alzheimer's-afflicted mother-in-law.
An invaluable resource on the stages of Alzheimer's, history, drugs, brain function, care-giving options, even literary works
The Guardian (UK) - Amelia Gentleman
This is not another guide to be added to the depressing pile by the bedside for those who are confronting the decline of a relative. It is as much an exploration of memory, its loss and the subsequent erosion of personality, as a chronicle of the destructive chaos that the onset of Alzheimer's unleashes on the extended family... Somehow, despite the territory, Gillies manages to steer the book away from misery lit and beneath the profoundly bleak narrative runs a stream of grim humour. Most powerful, however, is Nancy's own voice, carefully recorded by Gillies in nightly diary entries, a voice that is at times cantankerous, bewildered and defiant. Reading these monologues, we get very close to understanding what it feels like to experience this illness... What makes this book so unexpected is the honesty with which Gillies records the catastrophic consequences of this well-intentioned act." -
The Sunday Times (UK) - Pick of the Week
Gillies' account mixes popular science with a gruellingly vivid anecdotal picture of a personality altering...this is a compulsively readable and culturally clued-up book, drawing lightly on Proust, Marcus Aurelius and Ravel.. a valuable exploration of a landscape we urgently need to understand better now that so many of us are going to go there.
Jo Brand, Chair of the judges of the Wellcome Prize, 2009
Andrea Gillies's account of living with Alzheimer's is the perfect fusion of narrative with enough memorable science not to choke you. It's a fantastic book - down to earth and darkly comic in places. The judges found it compelling.
Sir Richard Eyre, Patron of the Alzheimer's Research Trust
Thoughtful, informative and true... a very good, very necessary book.
The World Alzheimer Report estimates that there are upwards of 35 million people living with dementia worldwide, two-thirds of whom are women, with Alzheimer's accounting for about two-thirds of cases. By 2050 it is expected that 115 million people will be living with dementia.
In the United States there are approximately 5.3 million people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. One person is diagnosed every 70 seconds. By the year 2050 it is expected that this rate will accelerate to one person every 33 seconds. In the UK Alzheimer's effects about 500,000 people. Evidence of Alzheimer's can be observed up to twenty years before serious mental breakdown occurs. Once diagnosed a person's average life expectancy is eight years, at least half of which is often spent at home with a family member as caregiver.
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