In her debut, journalist Kapsambelis builds a compelling narrative about Alzheimer’s disease around one North Dakota extended family.
In sections alternating among sagas of specific families, research in medical laboratories, and sweeping explanations of dementia, the author demonstrates beyond doubt that although Alzheimer’s acquired its name in the early 20th century (first described by Alois Alzheimer in 1906), it has devastated human brains for thousands of years. Much of what used to pass for old-age senility has actually been virulent dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is a specific type. A normal path of this abnormal disease starts with inconsistent memory, moves to the loss of motor skills, and culminates in a drawn-out, heartbreaking death phase. Alzheimer’s can rip apart families, often compromising the physical and mental health of the caregivers as well as the patients. Kapsambelis focuses largely on early-onset Alzheimer’s, which sometimes manifests as early as age 35. By focusing on the DeMoe family of rural North Dakota, the author was able to spend time with family members while they were still lucid. When Gail, an accomplished, lively young woman, married her husband, Galen DeMoe, she had no idea he harbored a mutant gene that would doom him and maybe any children they birthed to early-onset Alzheimer’s and excruciating declines. As detection techniques to spot the specific mutant gene progressed, each of the six children born to Galen and Gail had to decide if they wanted to be tested. Some of the six wanted to know quickly, while others delayed. If they carried the mutant gene, they also had to decide if they would risk having children of their own. In addition to clear discussions of the disease’s history and research, Kapsambelis successfully portrays Gail, Galen, and their extended family as fully fleshed individuals.
An educational and emotional chronicle that should resonate with a wide variety of readers.