Travellers to Unimaginable Lands: Dementia, Carers and the Hidden Workings of the Mind by Dasha Kiper - review by Paul Broks

Paul Broks

Dark Side of the Brain

Travellers to Unimaginable Lands: Dementia, Carers and the Hidden Workings of the Mind

By

Profile Books 272pp £16.99
 

Around the time that Lionel Messi was slotting home his first goal in the 2022 World Cup final, my mother was taking her last breath. The news reached me at half-time. The previous day, my brother and I had been at her bedside. Death was overdue, but there was an inexplicable delay in delivering the end-of-life meds and it was distressing to witness the woman who had brought us into the world making her way out of it in a state of agitated bewilderment. Words had deserted her. Thoughts and memories had been falling through the holes in her brain for some time, so perhaps she was all but drained of coherent cognition in the last days. It had been, I think, about eighteen months since she had last truly recognised me, though she concealed it well. Close to the end, her eyes had a pleading look. In the dying embers of her consciousness, I sensed there was still someone behind those eyes, someone reduced to a core of discomfort and confusion, but still, it seemed, someone. What can one do in such circumstances but hold the person’s hand and utter soothing words, regardless of whether they register?

Signs of dementia had begun to appear about seven years ago, not long after my father died, but I wasn’t the first to spot them. It seems ludicrous now that I reflect on it. After all, I’d done research into the neurochemical bases of memory loss in Alzheimer’s and diagnostic assessments of dementia were a routine part of my work in clinical neuropsychology. Yet, there I was, blind to my own mother’s incipient dementia.

Perhaps I should have visited the care home more often, but there was only one moment of real regret in the years after my mother was diagnosed. That was the time, as far as I can recall the only occasion in my adult life, that I raised my voice

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