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DANCING WITH ROSE by Lauren Kessler


Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer’s

by Lauren Kessler

Pub Date: June 4th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-670-03859-6
Publisher: Viking

Close-up look at life inside an Alzheimer’s care facility.

When her own mother had the disease, Kessler (Clever Girl, 2003, etc.) placed her in a care facility and visited only reluctantly. Determined to redeem this thoroughly unsatisfactory experience, the author immersed herself in academic research on the subject, then took a job as an attendant in an Alzheimer’s care facility. Although she did not go undercover like Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed, 2001), she does provide a similar exposé of the miserable conditions endured by minimum-wage workers, in this case the undereducated, underpaid and overworked women who care for our society’s institutionalized ill and aged. Unlike them, Kessler got to choose her working hours and was not there to earn a living. She wanted to comprehend firsthand what caretakers do, to connect with the residents and to understand their lives. What began as a short-term venture to gather material for a magazine article turned into months of work and observation, now expanded into this full-length narrative. The author’s graphic depiction of a caretaker’s daily routine—bathing, dressing, feeding and taking to the toilet old men and women who are often demanding and uncooperative—makes caring for a newborn seem a breeze. However unsavory the physical chores are, however, Kessler finds the experience immensely rewarding on an emotional level. She connects with these Alzheimer’s patients in a way she never could with her own mother. They make her feel needed, and she can be the daughter she never was, if only for a while. Kessler doesn’t scant the job’s numbing routine and frequent frustrations, but she is ever alert to small joys and simple kindnesses. She learns to accept rather than argue with the patients’ view of reality, thereby soothing their anxieties.

Offers an informative lesson and a comforting message for anyone with an afflicted family member.