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Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's Hardcover – May 31, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 84 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The growing number of readers who have relatives with Alzheimer's will warm to Kessler's excellent account of the months she worked as an unskilled resident assistant in an Alzheimer's facility on the West Coast. This facility, which she calls Maplewood, is a state-of-the-art institution, divided into small "neighborhoods" of 14 rooms with private baths, a common space and enclosed patios. The author of several nonfiction books, Kessler (Full Court Press) was attempting to resolve her feelings after her own mother, with whom she had a troubled relationship, died of Alzheimer's; bittersweet memories of her are scattered through the narrative. At Maplewood, Kessler feeds, toilets and converses with residents in varying stages of the illness. Marianne, for instance, an alert and well-dressed woman, appears not to belong at Maplewood. She still regards herself as a successful working woman, and the author treats her as such. Kessler becomes strongly attached to some of the other men and women in her neighborhood, feeling bereaved when several die during her tenure. She comes to regard Alzheimer's sufferers as individuals who can still enjoy life, given the care and recreational opportunities extended at this facility—a powerful lesson in the humanity of those we often see as tragically bereft of that quality. (June 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Assigned to write about Alzheimer's disease, Kessler took a page from a handful of notable journalistic predecessors. She chucked her notebook and immersed herself in the atmosphere and culture of an Alzheimer's residential facility near her home. Taking several months out of her cushy journalist's life, she worked there for minimum wage as a resident assistant (RA), the bottom job at the nursing home and one with high turnover. Indeed, many newbies don't return after the two-day orientation, much less make it to the three-month first "anniversary." Despite a high-minded description having to do with care and dignity, the RA's work is on the front line when it comes to residents' (not "patients'") bathing, using the toilet, dressing, feeding, corralling, and cleaning up. Kessler's experience was eye-opening, to say the least, more so because she was still lugging the weighty baggage of guilt she acquired from her response to her mother's Alzheimer's eight years previously. Invaluable intelligence, especially for anyone considering a residential facility for a loved one. Chavez, Donna

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (May 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038596
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lauren Kessler (www.laurenkessler.com) is an award-winning author, (semi) fearless immersion reporter and self-designated guinea pig journalist who combines lively narrative with deep research to explore everything from the seemingly romantic but oh-go-gritty world of ballet (Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker) to the surprisingly vibrant world of those with Alzheimer's (Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's). She has dived into the wild, wild west of the anti-aging movement (Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in the World of Antiaging) and weathered the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship (My Teenage Werewolf).
Her books have been Washington Post and Los Angeles Times bestsellers, Wall Street Journal "best" selections, Pacific Northwest Book Award winners, and Oregon Book Award winners. She is a national speaker and workshop leader who has twice been a guest on the David Letterman Show.
Her journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, O magazine, Ladies Home Journal, Prevention, Woman's Day, Utne Reader, The Nation, newsweek.com, and salon.com.
She is a Pacific Northwesterner (by choice not birth), a blogger, a back-country hiker, a long distance bike rider and -- as her long-suffering family knows well -- a quadruple Aries.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"I don't remember what we did, ... but that doesn't matter. It was sure fun while it was happening," observes Vivian, when asked about her day.

What could be a more perfect philosophy?

Vivian resides in "Maplewood" (pseudonym), the Alzheimer's care facility in Oregon where Lauren Kessler worked as a resident assistant while researching her recently released book, Dancing with Rose. The book not only reflects the anger, repulsion, fear, and guilt I experienced during the three years my Alzheimer's-stricken mother spent dying in a nursing home, it addresses those feelings without sentimentality and with close observation of the individuals (and we do see the residents as individuals) under Ms Kessler's care. In the process, my perceptions of the disease, the people who care for these patients, and the nature of an Alzheimer's existence radically changed, quite a feat in only 257 pages.

I have always respected the aids in these "homes." I know I don't have the physical and emotional strength to take care of all the physical needs of even one, let alone a dozen, Alzheimer's patients as they do day-in-day-out for minimum wage under austere, if not hostile, working conditions. It is outrageous how little they earn or are appreciated and amazing that they persist in providing such devoted care. My new respect is for the patients themselves and the redefined lives they carve out for themselves at each stage of their illness, finding joy in the small pleasures of the moment - the feel of warm flannel or a stuffed animal, the comfort of hugging or holding hands, the taste of ice cream. Despite the straightforward writing, I often cried as I read.

By the end, I agreed with Ms Kessler that there is joy and dignity in even these radically altered lives and that we can all benefit from assuming a similarly Zen approach to living. And as she points out, there are worse fates, more painful endings.
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Format: Hardcover
I am in the midst of caring for my father who is in the early stages of dementia. I watched his mother, my grandmother, suffer with Alzheimer's for almost ten years before she passed away fifteen years ago. Ms. Kessler's book strikes perfect chords of truth time after time. It is almost odd to say I enjoyed traveling her journey with her, but I guess what is more accurate is that she was an outstanding guide and reporter in a world that is so familiar to me and others who have been touched by this experience. Her thoughtful honesty with both her patient's lives as well as her own made this memoir one of the best I've ever read. A wonderful book that I recommend highly to anyone.
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Format: Hardcover
No exaggeration, "Dancing With Rose" will change the way you think about aging and death, the human mind and the nature of personhood. It is Kessler's most personal and, I think, best work. And considering her other books -- "Stubborn Twig," "The Happy Bottom Riding Club," "Clever Girl" et. al. -- that's a significant statement. Kessler's art for seeing people, and herself, clearly, without sentiment or melodrama, is rare, and one she shares with Joan Didion and tragically few others. A book about this subject could easily wade into platitudes, false uplift, or sob-sisterism. Kessler not only avoids all of that, but unveils a world that most of us are terrified to confront. Because she sees Alzheimer's clearly, because she is not afraid to think and write about aging and death, because she sees what is present in an Alzheimer's patient instead of what is absent, she allows us to see it, too, without fear. It is a book about Alzheimer's yes, but it is really a book about life, in all of its stages, and about the relationships that shape and guide us. It's about mothers and daughters, parents and children, the ones we are given and the ones we choose. If you know anyone with Alzheimer's it is, of course, a must-read, but "Dancing With Rose" is much more expansive than the disease, and a dazzling work of non-fiction from a master of the art. Buy it. Read it. You won't regret a single moment spent with this author, in this world. In fact, you may find yourself lingering, un-eager to leave.
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Format: Hardcover
The author is a sharply perceptive journalist who brings back from her work at a care facility the kind of wisdom, playfulness and compassionate understanding we look for in a smart friend.

Her journey is our journey, as children of aging parents and as partners dealing with our loved ones' illnesses or disabilities. This is a true story that, in Lauren Kessler's deeply honest style, transforms the way we see aging and illness.

Dancing with Rose, with its graceful and accessible language, provides the reader with a down-to-earth look at life with Alzheimer's, not only as a medical condition to be coped with, but also as a life lesson that many of us and our loved ones will experience.

This book is a treasure that should be shared with everyone we care about.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is only an eroding sense of discipline that quells my impulse to gush to the author: thank you, thank you, thank you...

Two years ago I rented out my house in Los Angeles to live with and care for my parents (both 87 years old this year) in Central Calif. Visiting Oregon last week I found this book, was unable to separate myself from it and wished that on my way back to California I could drop by Eugene to meet Lauren Kessler.

The positive impact of this book is enormous. My view of my Mother and dementia is being changed and in the process I am gaining courage and inspiration.

The story has deeply moved me. When I first started reading the book I found it difficult to breathe. As the story developed and the people came to life I found myself also caring about them, found myself weeping and laughing. But, importantly, able to breathe and learn.
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