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Reflected in Fiction - Alzheimer's and Dementia

A great librarian I know once said that sometimes things that are too hard to face in real life are better lived through fiction. June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness Month, and I've put together a list of recent titles that share the stories of caretakers, families, and those afflicted with these brain diseases. And because it's always good to know the facts, below the fiction titles you'll find a list of online resources, all available 24/7 with your Denver Public Library card. The Alzheimer's Association has set aside June 21 — the summer solstice — for people across the world to fight the darkness of Alzheimer's through a fundraising activity of their choice. Or put the Denver Walk to End Alzheimer's, September 17, 2022, on your calendar to gather with friends and family for a stroll through City Park.

  • Catchlight by Brooke Adams Law tells the story of a family struggling to care for their aging mother. While the story is centered around the recent Alzheimer's diagnosis, the deeper story begs readers to consider how much expectations define our actions and the extent to which we allow family dynamics to determine our future. Life is rough, tough and excruciatingly raw for the Keene siblings; however, they learn to rely on each other to heal.
  • Next up is The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi. Through the fog of dementia, Elle, the narrator of this novel, recounts her life on an island off the coast of Georgia during the Second World War. She, her husband, and a man named Gabriel (with whom she is in love, and who poses as her cousin) have come to mine an enigmatic mineral, Caeruleum, that glows blue in the coastal waters. As Elle's memory recedes into the mists of Alzheimer's disease, her life seems a tangle of questions.
  • In A.B. Yehoshua's The Tunnel, readers meet Zvi Luria - he's 73, a retired road engineer, and in early stages of dementia. His wife is keen for him to return to meaningful activity, and suggests he volunteers to work with his old colleagues at the Israel Roads Authority. He finds himself at the Ramon Crater in the Negev desert discussing building a secret road for the army with the son of his former colleague Assael Maimoni. But there's a mystery about a certain hill on the route of the planned new road. Who are the secret people living there?
  • Gone But Still Here by Jennifer Dance is about Mary, who is living with dementia. When readers first meet her, Mary is writing her memoir, the untold story of the love of her life, her first husband, who died more than 40 years earlier as the result of a racially motivated attack. As the disease progresses, she is getting more and more confused, living in the past – often with joy, but also with fear and sorrow. Sage, her daughter’s golden retriever, offers solace and narrates part of this moving story.
  • A respected family court judge who has spent her life making tough calls, Diane Tate must make the toughest one yet in her own life when her 68-year-old husband is diagnosed with early onset dementia and, along with her children, must reexamine her connection to the man he once was—and learn to love the man he has become. Marita Golden's The Wide Circumference of Love is a tale of family survival in which love softens the brutal edges of an insidious disease.
  • Set in Minsk in 2001, and reaching back to 1930, Red Crosses by Sasha Filipenko introduces Tatyana, a 90-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and Alexander (Sasha), a man who is reeling from recent tragedy. Tatyana invites the reluctant Sasha into her apartment and begins sharing her fading memories of the early Soviet Union, her father’s standing in the Communist party, and her experiences during World War II. The two come to recognize their own broken hearts in each other, forging an unlikely friendship, a pact against forgetting, their encounter giving rise to a new sense of hope in the future.
  • Alani Baum, a non-binary photographer and teacher, drops everything when they learn their mother’s dementia has taken away her ability to speak. It’s been over thirty years since they saw their mother, and a whole cacophony of childhood memories come flooding in as Alani once again walks the streets of Winnipeg and the rooms of their mother’s empty house. Vanishing Monuments by John Elizabeth Stintzi is a heavy and complex novel about memory and identity, and challenges notions of closure. Can anyone really move on from their past?
  • Last suggestion is Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin. The novel centers on Professor Spence Robin’s battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease and follows his family members—notably Pru, his wife, and Arlo, his son from a prior marriage—whose relationships to the man and his legacy shift profoundly upon his diagnosis. Henkin makes the reader think about which struggles end up defining us and how wealth, intelligence and status cannot necessarily insulate one from sadness and disappointment.

Looking for information on Alzheimer's disease and dementia? We have several vetted and constantly updated resources available for Denver Public Library customers:

  • Consumer Health Complete - Convenient access to easily understandable health and medical information. Search and browse within medical encyclopedias, popular reference books, and magazine articles.
  • Medline Plus - Consumer health information from the National Library of Medicine.
  • Merck Manual Consumer - Information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

FYI - Denver Public Library's services for Older Adults has its very own newsletter - read and subscribe here!

Written by Dodie on June 15, 2022

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