A writer looks at the many facets of dealing with Alzheimer’s.
In her nonfiction debut, Hergert begins by reminding her readers that the Alzheimer’s journey is not necessarily a grim, exclusively downhill slide into darkness but rather “a jumble of events and feelings that shift from moment to moment.” The author is personally familiar with that jumble; in the early 2000s, her husband, Ralph, began showing unmistakable signs that something was wrong with his memory and cognition. His condition worsened over the years to the point where, at the time of her writing this book, he was being cared for in a nursing facility. Hergert distills her long experience into alphabet form, starting with “A is for Activities” and ending with “Z is for Zest.” In each of these segments, the author combines clinical observations about the nature of Alzheimer’s and its progression with personal lessons learned from her time with Ralph. The “O” chapter, for instance, turns on the word “overwrought” and talks about how Alzheimer’s sufferers often become distraught and start ranting when confronted with ordinary routines they once enjoyed. (Ralph would yell and lash out when water from the shower hit his face, and he took to rambling aimlessly in the house, worrying Hergert that he would make it out the front door and wander around the neighborhood.) Many of these chapters are shot through with humor despite their grim tidings; in “K,” for example, the author recalls a neurologist’s commenting early on that Ralph was still “moderately kempt.” Although this was a foretelling of things to come, Hergert notes that she and Ralph laughed about the word for years. The unpredictability of the alphabetical approach facilitates these shifts of mood and tone; it works to remind readers that Alzheimer’s is an odyssey, one with many ordinary and even some funny moments. Readers dealing with Alzheimer’s will take great encouragement from the many “joy in the moment” tales the author relates.
A straightforward and curiously uplifting collection of living-with-Alzheimer’s stories.