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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Keeper: a book about memory, identity, isolation, Wordsworth and cake

by Gillies, Andrea

on 08/12/2010

Price: £8.99

Published: May 2010

Format: paperback

No Pages: 320 pages


ISBN-13: 9781906021993

Category: Biographical

Andrea Gillies’ award-winning account of her family’s experience of dementia takes us on a two year journey with Nancy, her mother-in-law, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Gillies, working from detailed diaries written at the time, recalls uprooting her family to a romantically rambling house on a remote peninsula in Scotland so that she can care full-time for Nancy while the family, including her young children, husband and Nancy’s partner Morris, remain together. What ensues is a time of warmth, love and ultimately patience and determination on all fronts, as Nancy slowly progresses down a path of lost memories, altered personality and eventually total emersion in what Gillies terms “dementia reality”, detached from the real world and those close to her.

Rather than being a sad or morose account of someone’s deterioration and mental unravelling, this book tackles dementia frankly and appropriately with humility, compassion and empathy. We discover the emotional highs and lows of day-to-day life, the small triumphs and defeats, the turmoil, fear and unrest and moments of absolute tenderness. As clinicians, this work gives an excellent and contemporary insight into the carer’s perspective of how elderly psychiatric services work practically, the challenges out there and the level of coordination required when treating patients in the community.

On reflection, the person most painfully affected by the situation as told here is possibly Morris, Nancy’s husband. Battling with his own health problems, he at once accepts and fights his wife’s diagnosis. As the woman he loves slowly slips out of reach we understand Alzheimer’s as “the long goodbye” in all too stark reality. Gillies’ uncensored portrayals of her own and her family’s frustrations and robust pragmatism helps to reveal the all-encompassing effects of the disease as Nancy’s situation progresses.

This book is an absolute must-read for all students and clinicians, particularly with an interest in old age psychiatry. I have not come across a work so engaging and honest about a subject we still, as a general public, struggle to come to terms with. This is absolutely Nancy’s story, but it is also a much wider story about the mind, identity, and the very the fabric of what makes us who we are.


L Kilmartin

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