Here's a look at a few books exploring the mental decline that the "oldest old" experience. One is told from the vantage point of an expert in the field who then finds daunting challenges when it hits home. A second is eloquently written by novelist John Thorndike. A third suggests lifestyle changes that, its author says, will stave off dementia (related story, left). Mimi Andelman, LifeTimes editor
Memory Lessons, a Doctor's Story
By Jerald Winakur (Hyperion), 287 pages, $24.95.
What's it about? The author, who has practiced internal and geriatric medicine, spent three decades helping others adjust to the challenges of aging. Yet that didn't prepare him for becoming a father to his own father.
From the book: "One day you may get a call. Your father is confused and was found wandering the streets many blocks from his home. Or your mother has had a stroke and is now in the intensive care unit. . . . And this brings you back to your old homestead, takes you away from your family, your job. . . . Your boss is irritated but you've got the Family Medical Leave Act on your side, at least for a while. . . . 'Is she really okay to go home?' you ask. You know the answer; but if she can go home maybe you can go home and pick up your busy life where you dropped it a week or a month ago. . . . Stop deluding yourself. It's time to have some tough decisions — sisters, brothers, Mom and Dad. It's time to make plans."
The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's
By John Thorndike (Swallow Press), 243 pages, $24.95.
What's it about? An account of the author's father's last years and what a family faces when memory and ability are destroyed.
About the family: Novelist John Thorndike moved from Ohio to Cape Cod to care for his father, Joe Thorndike, at home. The elder Thorndike was once the managing editor of Life at the height of its popularity after World War II; later he was publisher of American Heritage and Horizon magazines.
From the book: "He must know he's approaching the end of his life, but I want to protect him from this terrible fact. And I want to look after him. At least I do right now. I might not feel the same if I had to clean up his diapers — and that's where we're headed, I can see. At some point he'll be as helpless as a baby. But so far it's been no different from raising my son: The more I take care of him, the more I love him."
Beyond Alzheimer's: How to Avoid the Modern Epidemic of Dementia
By Scott D. Mendelson, M.D., Ph.D. (M Evans Publishing), 263 pages, $24.95.
What's it about? The author, a psychiatrist, posits through demonstrated evidence that dementia is avoidable. His view is that dementia is often the result of bad diet, stress, lack of mental and physical exercises and other poor lifestyle choices.
Who knew? Decreases in cognitive function may be as likely to be due to major depression than to genuine neorogenerative dementia.
Sample chapters: The Presentation and Diagnosis of Dementia; What Causes Dementia?; Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutraceuticals; When Medication Is Necessary. With index.