Review: Dementia Diary: A Caregiver's Journal, by Robert Tell

  • Robert Tell’s “Dementia Diary: A Caregiver’s Journal” is written from the male perspective, and that of an only child. While being a woman and/or having siblings can help or hinder caregiving, depending of the situation, Tell uses his status powerfully, to remind us that caregivers share a bond, but also have varying circumstances.

    The same goes for the types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is probably, at this point in time, the best known dementia, as it has gotten so much publicity. Tell’s mother has a different kind of dementia called multi-infarct dementia. This is a fairly common cause of dementia in the elderly, which happens when blood clots block small blood vessels in the brain and destroy brain tissue. My uncle had this type of dementia. My dad’s dementia stemmed from a World War II brain injury, and subsequent surgery, in his elder years. My mother’s was of an even different type. Each dementia is different, yet they are all frustrating and often frightening for the victim to bear, and devastating for loved ones to handle. Watching a person mentally deteriorate is a gut wrenching experience.
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    Tell’s Dementia Diary is warm and loving, but he isn’t afraid to talk of his own fears and negative thoughts. I appreciated this so much, as I speak often to people who feel as I did when I was inundated by loved ones needing care. I felt I should, at all times, present a positive, loving image. I had a hard time allowing myself to recognize my own humanity; my own exhaustion. Now, when I speak at events, I tell people about the thoughts they will have. The negative feelings. And I tell them that this is okay. Tell tells it like it is (okay, I was trying to avoid that wordplay, but I just couldn’t help it). I deeply appreciate his intimate storytelling style and his way of talking about the negative aspects of dealing with his mother’s difficult personality, while letting his obvious love for her shine through.

    Of the many stories he relates, the one that made me laugh out loud, was the watch story. I had been there with my mother-in-law, my dad and my mom. They were in an excellent facility. They had clocks all over – on the wall, the bed stand, and in the hallway. There were people to make sure they got where they needed to go. But they had to have their watches – and they’d better work! My dad couldn’t even see the extra large face on his watch, but he knew if the battery quit, and it had to be immediately replaced.

    Robert Tell relates the story of his mother’s repeated, frantic phone messages. When he returned home, he listened and at first thought it was a real emergency. The tone in her voice certainly portrayed that it was. It turned out that her watch battery had stopped. At first he wanted to put off replacing it until morning, but, realizing that he would have no peace until he did it, he ran out at 10:30 at night to get a battery for his mom’s watch. Then everyone could sleep.

    Tell’s stories about his mother’s behavior in public struck home as well. The reader sympathizes and relates to his embarrassment and conflicted emotions. His fights and frustrations over the health care system also ring uncomfortably true.

  • Dementia Diary is compelling, witty and warm. It’s also honest. One son. One mom. One dementia. It’s a fascinating journey and a good read. Dementia Diary is available from and from Read about another caregiving son in Part II.
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Published On: September 18, 2006