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Hard to Forget: An Alzheimer's Story Hardcover – April 25, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
One day Pierce's father, John, left his home in Massachusetts on an errand. He wound up three days later in a Vermont jail. The police assumed from his confused state that he was intoxicated. In actuality, he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease--a fact that both Pierce (a writer-at-large for Esquire and a regular contributor to National Public Radio) and his mother long refused to acknowledge: "I felt the truth bending inside me, turning the last three mad days into some familiar shape, and I realized what I was feeling was the comfort of denial." Pierce makes a notable contribution to the growing literature on this affliction by combining a family memoir with an overview of Alzheimer's history since its discovery in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer and of the state of current research into the genetic causes of the disease. Among the scientists whose work Pierce covers are Allen Roses and Peter Hyslop, whom he labels the "Genome Cowboys" and who, Pierce claims, failed to receive due credit for their discovery of an early-onset gene because of rivalry in the scientific community. The author poignantly describes how he detached himself emotionally from his father's worsening condition and how this detachment affected his wife, Margaret, and children. Margaret was the sole family member who accepted her father-in-law's disease and tried to combat her mother-in-law's consistent denial. Pierce himself is at great risk for Alzheimer's--in addition to his father, three uncles died of the disease--but, as yet, he admits, he has not been tested. He has, however, overcome his resistance to the truth and in so doing has crafted this excellent memoir. Author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Shortly before Memorial Day in 1985, Pierce's 70-year-old father went to the florist to buy flowers for the family graves. Three days later, he was found by police sitting in his car in Montpelier, VT, 250 miles away from his Massachusetts home, unable to remember his name or telephone number. Soon afterward he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's--a diagnosis that the family, especially Pierce's mother, refused to accept. Beneath the author's denial lurked the fear that he, too, would become a victim of the disease--his father's four brothers also died from it. A writer for Esquire, the Boston Globe, and GQ, Pierce used his journalistic skills to learn everything he could about the disease's history and prognosis and the search for its genetic links--while witnessing his father's decline. His book is a fascinating account of the fierce competition among the "genome cowboys" (the cutting-edge scientists racing to be first to identify new Alzheimer's genes). Although his genetic explanations are somewhat murky, Pierce's writing talents and his revelations of the darker side of genetic research and of families struggling to make sense of this devastating disorder make for a refreshing change from most feel-good, first-person Alzheimer's accounts. Highly recommended for aging collections.
-Karen McNally Bensing, Benjamin Rose Inst., Cleveland
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
-- Those who have a family member with Alzheimer's Disease. -- Friends of those families. -- Health-care providers. -- Fans of the nationally-known sportswriter Charles Pierce, because the prose in his first book (his work has been included in many sportswriting anthologies) is just as wonderful as it is on the sports pages.
Hard To Forget is the story of a young family -- Charles Pierce, his wife Margaret Doris,their new baby Brendan, and Margaret's son Abraham -- how they came to grips with the family denial of Pierce's father's Alzheimer's Disease. In 1985, Pierce's father John went to place flowers on the family graves in Worcester, Massachusetts, and vanished. He was found three days later in Vermont. When Charles and Margaret went to fetch him, John didn't recognize his son: "I think I'm going to give him that car," he told Margaret.
Charles Pierce's mother denied that anything was particularly the matter with her husband. Margaret, his wife, assumed the role of caretaker for her in-laws, trying to deal with the day-to-day issues and to convince her mother-in-law of the reality of the situation. Abraham, her son, found something new to dread in childhood: Sunday visits to Grandma and Grampa Pierce, and the fight in the car on the way home. Charles noticed not only his father's symptoms, but his uncles' and aunt's, and began researching the disease and its tendency to run in families. Would he get Alzheimer's? Would his new baby boy? Should he be tested? What did it mean when he couldn't find his parked car?
Pierce weaves together his family's story with a readable history of Alzheimer's Disease and the current, and sometimes conflicting, research. He reports on the studies done on the Amish and on a group of nuns. He retrieves horseshoes for the Friday Group, a gathering of Alzheimer's paitents in North Carolina. He recites to himself the trivia he hasn't forgotten, to prove to himself that everything is all right.
Fans of Pierce's sportswriting (he currently writes for Esquire; when he was writing for GQ, he published a much-talked-about story that ripped the facade of sainthood off Tiger Woods) will find Pierce's humor intact, along with an unflinching look at the tragedy that invaded his family's life. NPR fans who have heard him on the radio, in "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" and "It's Only a Game," will value having Pierce in print. Caretakers will want to refer this book to families who are being torn apart by Alzheimer's Disease, because the Pierces have been there and back again.
I found Pierce's book hard to put down. Since I live with a person afflicted with symptoms so similar to those he describes, the reading of his narrative became completely absorbing. His strategy of combining historical perspective and scientific background with personal stories and experiences seemed to me to fill in, in a very useful way, where some of the more clinical, or the more purely personal, accounts leave one still wondering and curious about the impact of KNOWING about the disease on family members and on sufferers. Not all family members want to know as much as others about the disease and its implications. And, of course, those afflicted with dementia may or may not ever have a true moment of realization of the fact of their affliction.
The account Pierce gives of how his family member is able, at an early stage, to recognize what is happening to him, and way Pierce describes the last interaction in which they communicated and meaningful messages got through is especially affecting.
I have also found helpful, for day to day living with dementia, The 36-Hour Day, which is out in a newer edition now. But Pierce's book has something else to offer, and truly evokes the tragic mysteriousness of how we actually lose people before our eyes, while they, unaware, become increasingly hard to care for.