By John Zeisel, Ph.D.
Review by Scott Keith
If you’re a baby boomer, there’s a chance your mother, father or grandparent is struggling with memory problems. A diagnosis no one wants to hear is Alzheimer’s disease. According to Healthcentral.com: The disease slowly attacks nerve cells in all parts of the cortex of the brain and some surrounding structures, thereby impairing a person’s abilities to govern emotions, recognize errors and patterns, coordinate movement and remember. Ultimately, a person with Alzheimer’s disease loses all memory and mental functioning. Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
It’s a scary diagnosis, both for the patient and for his or her family. But is the prognosis hopeless? The president and cofounder of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care has written a book that is designed to help family members cope with this debilitating disease. John Zeisel, who has earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, is the author of I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. While Zeisel does not shy away from the seriousness of the disease, he says the Alzheimer’s sufferer can still smile, enjoy the love and warmth of family and take great joy in something as simple as a trip to the local art gallery.
Zeisel helps strip away fear of the disease and gives the family some encouragement. Even though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, Zeisel prefers to examine the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Zeisel writes, “I advocate including people living with Alzheimer’s in society – at museums and theaters, among other places.” Zeisel explains that people can live over a decade with the disease, and that for much of that time, they can function with less help than most people think. They “can enjoy themselves, and can even learn new things.”
Zeisel’s background with Alzheimer’s goes back many years. He has run Alzheimer’s assisted-living treatment residences in Massachusetts and New York.
According to the book, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is seen as a sentence. “But this just isn’t so Throughout the more than decade-long progress of the disease, the person is crying out, ‘I’m still here.’ We all need to start hearing that cry before it fades away completely,” writes Zeisel.
In chapter 3, Zeisel, who has taught at Harvard, Yale and McGill universities, writes that certain human abilities are hardwired. “Although emerging neuroscience techniques will determine with increasing precision which brain elements are hardwired in humans, we already have indications of certain hardwired human skill and memories. Among these are facial expressions, responses to the touch of another, singing, and landmarks for way-finding – all abilities that last our entire lives, even if we have Alzheimer’s.”
I’m Still Here describes how something as simple as art can help an Alzheimer’s patient enjoy life. Zeisel writes, “The arts can provide meaning in what to many is experienced as an ever increasingly meaningless life. Art connects people to their culture and to their community.” Zeisel goes on to say that theater can help Alzheimer’s patients feel and understand emotions found in drama.
More hope can be found in chapter 10, where Zeisel, in a touching way, describes the “Gifts of Alzheimer’s,” — discussions in which family members have improved as human beings as a result of their relationships with loved ones who have suffered with Alzheimer’s.
If your loved one has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, purchase this remarkably uplifting and satisfying book. It is possible, says Zeisel, to see the glass as “half-full.”
Visit John Zeisel’s website at www.imstillhere.org