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Book Review of “When I Married My Mother: A Daughter’s Search for What Really Matters – And How She Found It Caring for Mama Jo” by Jo Maeder

When I Married My Mother: A Daughter's Search for What Really Matters - And How She Found It Caring for Mama JoWhen I Married My Mother: A Daughter’s Search for What Really Matters – And How She Found It Caring for Mama Jo by Jo Maeder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book this time of year with my dad’s birthday last week and the fourth anniversary of my mom’s death as our caregiving/receiving journey together ended was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.
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Book Review: “How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America” – Dr. Otis Webb Brawley

How We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America by Otis Webb BrawleyHow We Do Harm: A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America, in my opinion, should be on everyone’s to-read list.

Dr. Brawley does an excellent job of showing how American medicine, with profit as the bottom line (propped up by insurance companies, Big Pharma, and often-faulty research that is manipulated to making fear the driving factor for patients), does more harm than good in most cases under the pretense of providing “health” care. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606” by James Shapiro

 

In my profile of William Shakespeare’s character, King Lear, from the play of the same name, it was clear that Lear was suffering from dementia and, most probably, Lewy Body dementia.

The Year of Lear Book Review Going Gentle Into That Good NightSo I thought I’d share my review of The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James Shapiro to get a wider perspective on the year that saw Shakespeare give a title character in one of his plays many of the behaviors and symptoms of advanced cognitive impairment and Lewy Body dementia.

This book explores how the world around Shakespeare (beginning with the Gunpowder Plot on November 5, 1605 – now commemorated annually in England as “Guy Fawkes’ Day” – which had deep political and religious roots) during the early part of the reign of King James I, with an especially tumultuous year in 1606, influenced his writing that year.

Much of what was going on politically, socially, and emotionally in England at the time is reflected in the lines of King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, all of which are among Shakespeare’s tragedy plays and all of which Shakespeare wrote in 1606.

The Gunpowder Plot in late 1605 triggered much of the political and religious climate that overshadowed 1606. The plot, engineered by English Catholics who feared greater persecution – they got it – and more “do-or-die” pressure to abandon their Catholicism – a prescient fear even they didn’t realize the extent or depths of of James I – underscored the continued intense subterranean battle between England’s Catholics and Protestants.

While the plot was thwarted by the usual treachery and intrigue (it would have obliterated much of the heart of London government – buildings and people – and would have significantly changed the overall physical landscape of London), James I – as King of Scotland first, he was viewed as an interloper by much of the English population – reacted ferociously with a wide net that touched every English citizen, including Shakespeare, determined to have his will – the union of Scotland and England under one umbrella – no matter what he had to do to make it happen.

It seems James I did everything he could to alienate his English subjects, including moving, by disinterring, the graves of the royals in Westminster Abbey.

Most notably, he disinterred Elizabeth I and buried her on top of Mary I (“Bloody Mary,” the religiously-fanatical daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, whose main accomplishment on the throne was a religious pogrom against Protestants, of whom Elizabeth I was one), then moved his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots (one of Elizabeth’s staunchest rivals for the English throne), into Elizabeth’s grave and giving her a greater position of status in the cemetery.

William Shakespeare as a young manShakespeare, who lived in the heart of London most of the year, had a front row seat to all of this as part of the King’s Men, who were patronized by the crown, as they had been during Elizabeth I’s reign.

1606 was a year of fear (the plague hit London particularly hard during 1606, adding to the political and religious fear that was rampant in the city) and division (political and religious) and nostalgia (although by the end of her long reign the English believed Elizabeth I’s rule had become stagnant, the actions of James I made them long for her “good old days”) that punctuated the year.

I highly recommend this book even for people who may not know or really appreciate the incredible talent and acute, heart-of-the-matter insight that Shakespeare brought as a writer to his plays. Perhaps it will be a catalyst to go and read at least these three plays through the eyes of 1606.

“The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons” by Sam Kean – Book Review and Recommendation

The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam KeanFor those of us who are dealing with the effects of cognitive impairment and physical neurological damage in our journeys through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease either as caregivers of loved ones or as actual participants, The Tale of Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery by Sam Kean should be on our reading list.

Each chapter covers a section of the brain, its functions, and how defects change not only that section of the brain, but the behaviors associated with it.

Reading this will give us some excellent insights into the behaviors we see when dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are present. I always believe that our ability to help and respond well and lovingly with any health issue, including neurological decline, is directly proportional to how well we understand what is happening and why.

My Goodreads review:

“Sam Kean has done a great job of not only showing the history of neurosurgery (all the way back to the 16th century) but also how a handful of people in the space of about 400 or so years discovered key basic biology and functionality of the brain.

Historically, brains have not been treated well and people with neurological defects (birth, genetic, or circumstantial) has fared even less well. Reading this, you can’t – unless you have no heart at all – feel anything but a whole lot of empathy for the people whose neurological defects gave us more understanding about how the brain works.

Except for the discussion of kuru in Papua New Guinea. If getting completely grossed out in detail is your thing – it still makes me shudder and I skimmed over the worst of it as soon as I read the first offending description – you probably won’t mind. I mind. A lot. It’s just too yuck for words.

Otherwise, a very well-written engaging and informative book. And it’s accessible and conversational.

As much as I love the study of neurology and neuroscience, as I actually do biology and medicine, I apparently, though, still have that little glitchy hangup with the dissection/surgery/”Ewwww…I have to touch THAT?” part that goes along with it.

That’s too bad, because except for that, this would have probably been my actual calling in life (there, Daddy, I said it…I’ll tell you in person when I see you again.)”

“Being Mortal” by Dr. Atul Gawande: Book Review and Recommendation

Being Mortal Book ReviewAfter watching PBS’s Frontline program “Being Mortal” with Dr. Atul Gawande, I knew I wanted to read this book with the same name.

It didn’t disappoint. Having intimately walked through aging and the end of life with both of my parents up close and personally, I could nod my head at much of what Dr. Gawande said about life and medicine as it exists today and how it should be instead. Surprisingly, I found some comfort in knowing that my parents and I – although many times it seemed like a David and Goliath battle – together took the right and the best approach toward both.

Everybody should read this book. It highlights one of my mantras about living: quantity doesn’t equal quality and in the end, if there’s no quality, there’s no life.

We Americans especially are on this eternal quest to cheat aging (and spend who knows how much money on one gimmick after another to try to sidestep it or avoid it altogether), so we ignore the inevitable fact that this body is temporary and it starts failing us gradually and slowly from the day we are born.

And because we ignore the aging process, we do not plan and are not prepared – nor, for the most part, is society – for the changes that need to be made, while preserving independence, vitality, and purpose, when we reach the point of physical breakdown where we need help.

We Americans also have been so removed from the process of dying that we literally treat death as an abnormality instead of the expected and intended end of all humans.

Medicine has accommodated this and public policy and insurance companies have thrown their support behind this quest for “a little more time.” What buying a little more time has cost us is a lot of money, more harm than good (the cure is often far worse than the disease), and the loss of quality of life.

Dr. Gawande refocuses aging and end of life through a difference lens. He poses the questions most people, including medical professionals, don’t want to ask, but should ask. And we should answer.

Some of us will die suddenly – the reality is that no death is unexpected, because that’s the end game for all of us. Even if we die suddenly though, there are many things we need to have in place to make our deaths as easy on whoever will be taking care of our affairs afterwards as possible.

If we die suddenly then we may be too young to have to plan for aging well. But many of us will live long enough to come face to face with the aging process. Without a plan, all bets are off.

If we want control over how our lives go when we age to the point where we need help and we want control over how our final years, months, weeks, days on this earth unfold in terms of what’s most important to us (family, friends, faith, being at home, etc.), then today is the day to start thinking about it, plan for it, and make our decisions known to everyone who needs to know.

“A Deadly Wandering” – by Matt Richtel: Book Review and Recommendation

very inspiring blogger award nomination going gentle into that good nightAs I write for Going Gentle Into That Good Night, I don’t just think in a confined space of caregiving for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

That’s important – and the focus of most of the posts here – and the information I provide is practical and addresses daily life for us as caregivers and our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

I work constantly with the goal of providing what caregivers need in one place and where they will not find anywhere else.

The two books I’ve written for caregivers about dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – Going Gentle Into That Good Night: A Practical and Informative Guide For Fulfilling the Circle of Life For Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease and You Oughta Know: Acknowledging, Recognizing, and Responding to the Steps in the Journey Through Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – are written with the same goal.

I was the caregiver for my mom who had vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as congestive heart failure. Someone gave me a copy of the bible on these diseases – The 36-Hour Day – and not only was it written by clinicians who had never actually been through the day-to-day with these diseases, but it didn’t address the very specific things I was seeing with my mom and it didn’t address the in-the-moment things and challenges of daily life that we as caregivers and our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease face and need to navigate through.

Most disheartening for me personally was the absence of dignity and love for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease in a lot of what I read.

These people that we love and loved fiercely were treated at worst as mindless, inanimate objects and at best as newborn babies who needed to be stripped of all control and input into their lives.

So after my mom’s death in 2012, I decided to do my best to give caregivers what I didn’t and couldn’t find, doing the research, drawing on experience, staying abreast of these neurological diseases and providing what has been the only – and still is – comprehensive resource for caregivers of loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease that wasn’t just specific to my mom and didn’t focus on just a single aspect of the breadth and width and length of what caregiving and being cared for entails.

Make no mistake, though. My mom is a part of many of my posts because that’s where I got the practical experience, but except for my very personal posts on those days when missing her comes on me full force again, my mom is not the focus of this blog.

You the caregivers and your loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are. That is why I continue to take the experiences that you talk with me about and I continue to add to the resources here.

My work here will never be done. That is my commitment and my promise to each of you and to your loved ones.

One of the things that has become evident over the past few years is that our lifestyles – yours and mine – potentially make most of humanity headed for dementia because we’re creating a fertile environment for neurological degeneration.

One of the lifestyle factors that poses, in my opinion, the most significant risk of neurological degeneration to the most people is our increasing addiction to technology.

The research in neuroscience backs this up. We have too little absence in our lives from technology.

Technology changes our neuroplasticity (the part of the brain responsible for creating neural pathways) and, as a result, there are parts of our brains that are getting short-circuited and bypassed altogether. This leads to cellular atrophy and, eventually, death – the hallmark indicators of dementia. Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is an excellent book on how this happens.

Attention, Technology, Increased Possibility of Lifestyle DementiaA Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel looks at another aspect of how technology affects the brain in terms of attention.

My Goodreads book review of A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention:

“Excellent book that weaves an actual story of the unconscious attention deficit created by using technology (in this case, texting, but it applies to all technology) while driving a vehicle with the neuroscience behind the human ability to pay attention (stay focused) with multiple, seemingly-equal, stimuli coming at them all at once (multitasking).

The reality is that multitasking, for 99% of us, is a myth we’ve bought into and it’s making us more unable to pay attention to anything for long (there’s a dopamine hit that mimics the same hit that drug and alcohol addicts get with that first snort, draw, liquid ice in the veins or drink – the hit is short-lived, but we’re hooked and we first want it and then we need it), more unproductive, more unconscious in terms of critically thinking and keeping the big picture in focus, and more of a danger, in some cases, fatally so, to ourselves and others.

Everyone should read this book. It’s a tough read at times, both in terms of the pain and suffering revealed in all the people discussed in the book and in terms of the fact that when we look in the mirror, we’re most likely going to see the “bad guy” in this book with our faces looking back at us.

It’s a cautionary tale that we all need to take to heart and do something about TODAY.”

“Memory Lessons” – Jerald Winakur: Book Review and Recommendation for Caregivers

Going Gentle Into That Good Night Book Review and RecommendationMemory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story by Jerald Winakur is a must-read for all us who are caregivers for loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease. Going Gentle Into That Good Night cannot recommend it highly enough.

This is my Goodreads review:

“What an incredible book! Dr. Winakur is a geriatric physician – old-school, steadfastly bucking against the managed care model of the for-profit companies that own medicine in the U.S. and Big Pharma, the for-profit companies who advertise magic-in-a-pill drugs directly to consumers and pay off medical providers to prescribe them – and is/was the son of aging parents, one of whom was his dad, who had dementia.

Dr. Winakur weaves the story of his philosophy as a doctor – do not harm, take the time to listen t0 and to think about each patient, we all forget, in devaluing our elderly population and shuffling them off to care facilities because we’re too busy with our own lives and can’t be bothered, that not only do we owe them our turn in the circle of life, taking care of them when they need us most just as they took care of us when we needed them most, but one day, if we live long enough, we will be them and the examples we set with our own attitudes and behavior toward them are what our children see and what they will, in turn, do to us – with the story of his family and his parents.

It is refreshing, poignant, and from the heart.

A must read!”

This is great book for all of us as caregivers. He is a doctor and a caregiver for his parents. It’s interesting to see how he deals with the same dilemmas and decisions as a son, in spite of being a geriatric physician, that we do as sons, daughters, grandchildren, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, and spouses of our loved ones.