Thursday, June 11, 2015

"The Theft of Memory", a book by Jonathan Kozol

Jonathan Kozol is well known for his award winning books about inner city children and their education or lack of education, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds or circumstances.  This latest book, subtitled "Losing My Father, One Day at a Time" takes on a highly personal topic that is a change from his prior writing.   It is the story of his accomplished, even famous in his field, father as he was hit by Alzheimer's disease in his later years.  It was fascinating reading as so much was familiar.

There are no exact parallels here, but tangential parallels from the past and currently are plentiful. The challenges of finding good care and good doctors to deal with geriatric issues is one major issue that many people face, and Kozol certainly found that to be the case in working with his father.  In that process he eventually and fortunately found some devoted near saints, who helped him, his mother, and his father get through their challenges.  He was fortunate, and we know others who have eventually ended up with such people, including my father in his last two years.

The bond that can develop and even may be enhanced in this type of situation is also explored. Working through the effort to talk and communicate with someone who has dementia can be an effort in great patience that is appreciated by both parties at times, frustrating at other times.  Talking about "lost memories" creates a bond that may not have existed prior to the disease.  Kozol does not try to make caring for a person with dementia look easy.  He is simply looking for the bright spots that may be found, and that he found gratifying in the midst of a difficult situation.

Much of the book focuses on the accomplishments of his father who was "an unusually intuitive clinician with a special gift for diagnosing interwoven elements of neurological and psychiatric illnesses in highly complicated and creative people."  Among Dr. Henry Kozol's patients was Eugene O'Neill who moved to Boston in the last years of his life, moving just across the street from Dr. Kozol so he could see him every day.  Among less accomplished people, Dr. Kozol evaluated high profile criminal defendants, among them Patricia Hearst and Albert DeSalvo, aka the Boston Strangler.

"The Theft of Memory" has many aspects that could appeal to people in various circumstances, all surrounding elder care in general and dementia more specifically.  A decline into dementia can be slow and gradual or it can be abrupt and startling for family and caregivers.  Dr. Kozol's own insights into his decline, shared with his son, are revealing.  This book is recommended for those have reason to be interested or for those who like a human interest story about a strong family and ultimately their strong caretakers.


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