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)
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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