In honor of National Family Caregivers Month, here are three new books for caregivers that would make excellent holiday gifts. The first is a beautiful hardcover memoir in cartoon form that I’m giving away in a drawing.
1. “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast
“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is a memoir written in cartoons—like a graphic novel, but true. New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast was an only child who, like many adult children, found herself caring for aging parents who badly needed help but did not want it. Her father was living with dementia, and her mother was the type of distant, critical personality who made caring for her a constant battle. Neither parent wanted to talk about hiring home care aides or moving out of their Brooklyn apartment (where Chast grew up) into assisted living, denying that they were growing more frail—and even that they might die one day. They lived into their nineties, with Chast their distraught sidekick.
“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is not an “uplifting” memoir in the traditional sense, but readers are likely to find it heartening and helpful because Chast is brutally honest in her depiction of herself as a reluctant, freaked-out caregiver. Her acerbic wit may help other caregivers let go of the guilt they may feel about their own struggles caring for an aging parent or other family member. Just her drawings of herself in bugged-eye distress may help caregivers feel less alone–and make them laugh.
Drawing to win a copy of “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”
I enjoyed this book so much, I’d like to donate my copy (a hardcover in absolutely perfect condition) to a caregiver. If you are caring for an aging parent or other family member, just leave a comment below saying you’d like to be included in the drawing. If you win, I’ll reply to your comment, ask you to email me your address, and ship the book to you! (Please enter only if you live in the continental U.S., so it doesn’t cost me a fortune to ship it to you. Thanks!)
Deadline to leave a comment and enter the drawing: November 24th.
Order “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” here.
2. “When Caring Takes Courage: A Compassionate, Interactive Guide for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers,” by Mara Botonis
If you or someone you know is a care partner for a person living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, “When Caring Takes Courage” will help you cope more creatively and patiently with the myriad challenges you face every day. Mara Botonis draws upon her nearly 30 years of experience as an administrator working with people with dementia and their care partners in various elder care facilities.
She notes with irony that what she has learned inside facilities has convinced her that what she cares about the most is helping caregivers at home—those on the front lines of daily caregiving who need support, encouragement and specific information. To that end she has created a comprehensive and easy-to-use manual that covers nearly every situation you are likely to face as a dementia care partner caring for a loved one at home—from hands-on tips such as how to ease a person’s fear of bathing, to simple but creative ideas for ways to enjoy one’s time “in the moment” with a person living with dementia.
As a self-published book, “When Caring Takes Courage” has its flaws—for example, it could have used more editing for clarity and conciseness, and an index—but it is truly a comprehensive manual for dementia caregivers, written with compassion. I agree with the author that the book might best be used like a “cookbook”—that is, as a resource that you read not all at once but a little at a time as you need it, looking up a specific “recipe” to answer the particular challenge you’re facing that day. And the worksheets—such as the form to evaluate dementia care facilities—seem quite helpful.
I would give away my copy of “When Caring Takes Courage” (as I am with the book above), but I have the bad habit of writing in my paperbacks.
Order “When Caring Takes Courage” here.
3. “On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s,” by Greg O’Brien
Greg O’Brien has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, as did his mother. Living “on Pluto” is his metaphor for living with dementia—the other-worldly state of losing so much that defines one’s life. Diagnosed at age 59, O’Brien uses his substantial “cognitive reserve” as a journalist, editor and previous author to write a moving account of how dementia has affected him, his mother and his family.
O’Brien is at his best when he describes scenes of his interactions with other people—for example, how he and his grown children struggle to come to terms with his changing personality. But as an indie-published book (O’Brien owns the small press that published his book), “On Pluto” could have used more editing: Two chapters about his idyllic childhood seem extraneous to his current state of affairs; more judicious use of commas would have helped smooth the reading experience; and a bit too much of the book describes his environs (Cape Cod) rather than the state of his mind as promised by the subtitle (“Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s”).
Overall, however, “On Pluto” is honest and compelling, an important addition to memoirs written by middle-aged persons living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias (“Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out,” by Dr. Richard Taylor, for example, and “Dancing with Dementia,” by Christine Bryden). O’Brien’s story helps us see that Alzheimer’s disease is not just a disease of elders—it can affect people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. And, like the novel “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova (who, as a friend of O’Brien’s, wrote his introduction), “On Pluto” helps us understand that a person with dementia is more than their memories—more than their intellectual abilities, career or role in the family. “Memory,” O’Brien says, “isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Memory” doesn’t define us. Definition is found in the spirit, in the soul, but one must dig for it.”
Whether you are living with dementia, know someone who is, or are a care partner for a person with dementia, “On Pluto” will help you feel more compassion for people living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, and more hope that persons with dementia remain “in there” as the disease progresses.
Again, I can’t give away my copy of “On Pluto,” as I am with “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” above, because it’s a paperback and I wrote lots of notes in the margin. But you may learn more about “On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s,” or order it, here.
Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be entered in a drawing to win the hardcover of “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” (Deadline: Nov. 24, 2014.)