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.
You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and
pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives.
Life without memory is no life at all. Our memory is our
coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action.
Without it, we are nothing.
It is singular how soon we lose the impression of what
ceases to be constantly before us. A year impairs, a luster
obliterates. There is little distinct left without an effort of
memory, then indeed the lights are rekindled for a
moment - but who can be sure that the Imagination is not
the torch- bearer?
The process of writing this book, the physical act of putting it together from diaries, scribbled notes, books about the mind, and concentrated bouts of introspection, has proven an illuminating exercise for me, demonstrating just what it is that dementia takes away. (Answer: everything; every last thing we reassure ourselves that nothing could take away from us.) The way ...
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).
Full Review (1051 words).
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 ...
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