A clear sign that Shakespeare’s Gertrude is unmoved by her husband’s death is how facilely philosophical she is about it. ‘Thou know’st ’tis common all that live must die,’ she declaims to the grieving Hamlet. ‘Why seems it so particular with thee?’ For Nicci Gerrard, her beloved father’s decline into dementia and his eventual death are indeed sharply ‘particular’, but in What Dementia Teaches Us About Love she manages to combine the intensely personal with the universal, and to be philosophical in both senses. From the particularities of the dementia sufferers and their carers whom she meets, and from visiting care homes and interviewing medical experts, she gains a sense of the tragic nobility of ageing and develops a hard-won stoicism. In this book she philosophises on the nature of not just dementia but also life, death, ageing, euthanasia and what it is to be human.
Dementia is increasingly, as our life spans lengthen, a condition many of us will succumb to. We should, then, recognise, says Gerrard, that to be human is not essentially to be the vigorous and healthy specimen so often celebrated in art, and that vulnerability and dependence are not