As dementia claims a Midwestern man’s mind, his wife and son record the experience in this memoir.
Dementia slowly crept into Donny Larson’s life. By the time he went hunting in 2005 with his friends and son, he was already battling forgetfulness and mood swings. After Donny got lost in the forest and his son found him shivering and soaked, the younger Larson, Mike, realized this would be the last hunt of his dad’s life, for everyone’s safety. The hunt story, which opens this debut work, serves as the perfect metaphor for the larger tale of Donny’s descent into dementia and the challenges, heartbreak and—occasionally—hope he and his family found in the experience. Initially, Donny’s Minnesotan family noticed him injuring himself and growing more forgetful, but they worked around it to keep him at home. However, after a violent episode in 2007, his wife struggled to find a nearby facility willing to take him, then she wrestled with practical issues as well as emotional ones—especially after Donny was eventually moved into the same facility where his own mentally unsound mother still lived. Donny’s wife and son write in sincere, frank tones, discussing with a surprising amount of openness topics such as incontinence, saving money for nursing home care, drugs, their Lutheran faith and the concept of “best care”—the realistic balance of care and sacrifice. The love and patience offered by Donny’s wife is evident on every page, and readers will empathize with her as her husband’s health declines. Likewise, her son’s combination of frustration, sadness and resignation is understandable, particularly when he mentions how he doesn’t mind caring for his kids since they will grow up and become independent, but his father “was never going to recover and his needs kept growing.” While this memoir might be an overwhelming read for someone starting out as a caregiver or fearful of their own diagnosis, middle-aged and older readers who’ve been down a similar path may find comfort in this homespun story.
A family chronicles their patriarch’s dementia and the painful caregiving experience without flinching and with a lot of heart.