Dancing On Quicksand
A Gift of Friendship in the Age of Alzheimer'sBy Marilyn Mitchell
Published by Johnson Books
Publication date: 2002
ISBN: 1555663214 (paperback)
Listen to Marilyn Mitchell read from her book:
Segment 1 discusses how dehydration can affect physical and mental status in cases of dementia.
Segment 2 talks about what human dignity really means.
Segment 3 shows how long-term memory may be intact even when short-term memory fails.
Here's a realistic memoir of what it's like to care for someone with progressive dementia, told from the point of view of a caretaker with no prior experience of this sort. Mitchell was hired as a supportive companion to David, an elderly businessman. David could no longer drive but otherwise seemed sharp and vigorous. Mitchell's job was to take David on outings to help him stay active. Mitchell quickly senses that something is not quite right with David's mental status. Their adventures together combine commonplace activities with exasperating moments. In fact, David is in the early stages of dementia that is not clearly diagnosed or fully understood by his caregivers. Gradual onset of dementia is a perplexing and common reality, and it is pictured well here.
Over the next few years, Mitchell's relationship with David evolves into a sustained friendship. Out of necessity she learns the practical side of how to cope with dementia as a long-term, progressive illness. In the course of this shared experience Mitchell learns important lessons about human dignity, respect, and the essence of human nature. David is literally "losing his mind." What does this mean for his ability to relate to other people? What does it mean about how others relate to him? There are many undignified moments, but to have an undignified experience and to lose one's dignity are very different things. The clear message of the book is that despite the loss of normal mental function, some form of human relationship can remain intact, enhancing both parties.
This is not a dreary, sentimental story of confusion and depression. David is still mobile, and still shows the zest and enthusiasm for life that he always had. But his changed mental status leads to unexpected situations that are humorous and heartbreaking by turns. Mitchell does not conceal the unpleasant realities of dementia. But flashes of surprising clarity remind us that David can still be as sharp as a tack now and then. They laugh together as often as anything else, and the continued presence of humor is a sure sign that two human beings are still communicating with one another. But there are also primal rushes of anger, confusion, and disorientation. Mitchell continues to recognize David's "essential worthiness" even in the most outrageous moments.
"Dancing on Quicksand" is a memoir, not a handbook on dementia. There's no cure for David's condition, so there is no drama associated with treatments, medical care, and aggressive therapy. The book is a story about a friendship, with minimal details on the medical aspects of David's situation. Readers will not find textbook instructions on the different types of brain functions, illnesses, and disease processes that can result in changes to mental status. But caregivers will recognize themselves in Mitchell and will get plenty of practical ideas on how to support someone who is in gradual mental decline. Mitchell's ability to roll with the punches will inspire caregivers in similar situations.