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Culture Watch

Page Two



by P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D. and Lisa P. Gwyther, M.S.W., with Tina Adler © 2008

Published by St. Martin’s Press; hardcover, 451 pp

Now that the Boomers have crashed into their 60’s, we are beginning to see a plethora of books that deal with the problems inherent in aging. All kinds of advice, financial, medical, physical, psychological, geographical, legal, etc. ad nauseam, is being parsed and articulated and shoved Out There for our perusal. I have resisted reviewing all but a few of these books, because I suspect that Senior Women Web’s readers are savvy enough to suss out the ones they want to read without my advice. (Never mind the fact that I am probably on overload from the sheer volume of offerings).

The Alzheimer’s Action Plan, however, is a volume I want not only to review, but will keep on my bookshelf on the off-chance that my family or friends may find it useful. In fact, given the statistics, it’s a fair bet that I or someone within my acquaintance will benefit from it someday. I wish that my father had had access to a book like this when my stepmother developed Alzheimer’s. His devotion and intelligence as her caregiver saw her through to her death, but at considerable cost to his own well-being as he struggled to figure out where to go for help, and what kinds of things he could do to maintain both his wife and himself.

Dr. Doraiswamy is head of Duke University’s Biological Psychiatry division and is also a Senior Fellow at Duke’s Center for the Study of Aging. His co-author is Lisa P. Gwyther, M.S.W., who is Associate Professor in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and is a social worker with 38 years’ experience in aging and Alzheimer’s services. Between the two of them, they have produced a book rich in medical information as well as practical advice. The list of resources (by states) at the end of the book would be useful all by itself, but there are two appendices that list not only the stages of symptom progression, but also have sample “Informed Consent” forms (and how to interpret them).

Alternating straight text with anecdotal reportage, the chapters cover things like how to get an accurate diagnosis; state-of-the-art treatment (including detailed explanations of old and new drugs); how to begin “a new normal living” after diagnosis; the stages of Alzheimer’s and the range of behavioral and emotional changes possible, as well as a great many suggestions on how to deal with them. The latter includes modeling of appropriate responses to inappropriate behavior, with many helpful suggestions for avoiding confrontation and supporting the dignity of the patient.

There is also a chapter on how to live a brain-healthy lifestyle, and — one of the most interesting chapters — “Our 40 Top Questions and Answers,” which are sub-grouped into Q/A areas like “Understanding How Alzheimer’s Changes Personality,” or “Daily Life: Managing Money, Driving, Travel, and Other Basics,” or "Getting Others to Understand” (including children).

This book offers much more than simple and not-so-simple factual information. It is in every sense a huge support for the patient, the family, and the caregiver(s). If someone you know is suffering, either from Alzheimer’s itself or from taking care of an Alzheimer’s victim, run, do not walk, to your nearest bookstore. I hope that every nursing home in America will place a copy on its lending shelf, and mention it in its reportage to the families of Alzheimer’s patients. If you’re looking for a good deed to do, you might even consider buying a copy or two and donating it to a local nursing home.




by Jhumpa Lahiri, © 2008

Published by Alfred A. Knopf; hardcover: 333 pp

Jhumpa Lahiri has placed a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Custom House as the frontispiece of her latest book:

"Human nature will not flourish any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted for too long a series of generations in the same, worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.”

Anyone who has read Lahiri’s other stories or her novel, The Namesake, will understand the appropriateness of her selection. She has taken the phrase, “unaccustomed earth,” as the title for her new collection of short stories, but it could be read as the over-arching theme of all that she has written thus far. Her tales of the strengths and stresses within the families of Bengali immigrants are both particular to their ethnicity and emblematic of the challenges facing all immigrants. Those stresses include everything from simple struggles with the language to the generational gaps that occur within such families as their children take up their very American lives.

On the larger scale, of course, Lahiri’s writings connect with the deep emotions of any family whose children have grown up, left home, and are struggling to find their way in the adult world. You don’t have to be a Bengali or even an immigrant to relate to that.

What makes her writing more than just reportage on the immigrant experience is her deep understanding of the human heart. Lahiri writes with unflinching honesty and attention to the telling detail. Her writing has a resonance that is rare in so young an author: every layer of it is full of rich intention. No irrelevant asides or frivolities or descriptive excesses distract from the building of her stories.

It would be a disservice to the author to try to describe the individual stories in this volume. They are unique, and deeply moving, and as far from the feel-good superficialities of Hollywood or pop fiction as a moonless midnight is from bright noon. The jacket flap describes them as "...a masterful, dazzling work of a writer at the peak of her powers.” Given Lahiri’s youth, "peak” seems an odd choice of words. We hope that this book is just the next step in the development of those powers. May they flourish forever.


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©2008 Julia Sneden for

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