Bestselling author speaks of love and dementia
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
One in three babies born today will develop dementia. So quotes Nick Spencer in his introduction to a podcast interview with the novelist Nicci Gerrard. However, it isn't fiction which interests Spencer in this conversation so much as Gerrard's book, What Dementia Teaches Us about Love
( Allen Lane, 2019).
In this recent edition of the podcast series 'Reading Our Times', Gerrard describes her father’s dementia and the moving book she has written about the experience.
Posing the question: 'What can dementia teach us about being human?' Spencer explores how the illness throws into sharp relief our sense of identity, our very humanity. 'What is it to be alive, after all?' he asks.
Gerrard's father John was both a doctor and a businessman, someone with a deep love of the natural world. For ten years he lived 'quite happily' with Alzheimer's Disease but the final year of his life, as his condition progressed, his daughter and wife cared for him and Gerrard has written a 'poignant and perceptive' memoir of that time spent with him, observing him. She knew him to be an 'affectionate, modest, very honourable and very sweet man'.
After a five-week spell in hospital during which he lost a third of his body weight, she described him as 'a ghost in his own life'. The following months were to alter profoundly her view of what it is 'to have a life'.
Since his death, the writer has launched John's Campaign. Her website for the campaign says: 'Behind its simple statement of purpose lies the belief that carers should not just be allowed but should be welcomed, and that a collaboration between the patients and all connected with them is crucial to their health and their well-being. John’s Campaign applies to all hospital settings: acute, community, mental health and its principles could extend to all other caring institutions where people are living away from those closest to them. In the time since the campaign was founded, over 1,000 institutions have pledged support and a lot of progress has been made – but there is a lot yet to be done.'