Review by Alicia Vaughan
Dementia: The One-Stop Guide: Practical Advice for Families, Professionals, and People Living with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease by June Andrews certainly lives up to its title. It is an enlightening and engaging read, which explores dementia at the meeting point between objective evidence and human experience. While the book’s scientific content is lower than I expected, there is certainly much to be learned by plunging into its pages.
Throughout the book, Andrews is able to rationalise seemingly irrational behaviours in a simple way, which I found fascinating. For example, she guides the reader through a range of possible reasons for which a patient might refuse food. Andrews often uses ‘imagine if you…’ scenarios, to evoke empathy in the reader. After exploring a number of situations from this point of view, it becomes evident that there is always a logical explanation for the psychological changes in people with dementia. A key take-home message is that such behaviours are not senseless but that we simply need to make a greater effort to make sense of them. In this way, Andrews demands respect for the condition and people who are experiencing it.
These insights are accompanied by practical strategies for addressing common symptoms. These include tips for increasing appetite, facilitating olfactory and auditory stimulation of the memory, addressing wandering and delirium, and decreasing falls risk. Andrews also explores the various ways in which exercise can ameliorate the effects of dementia.
The book is written with a very logical yet respectful tone. A personal touch is added by anecdotes from carers, health professionals, family members and people living with dementia. Andrews is conscious of best practice and is careful to distinguish between personal and research-based observations. However at times, I believe more attention could be paid to scientific principles. For example, while the several graphs included provide a useful visual aid, they are inadequately labelled and somewhat ambiguous. As a result, they can be difficult to interpret. The reader should also be aware that many of the administrative aspects discussed in relation to government, legal and health systems, are specific to the UK. Nevertheless, the book does contain some useful advice which can be applied universally. Overall, the guide is very informative and Andrews displays a talent for translating the overwhelming complexity of dementia into advice which is straightforward and easy to follow.
Despite its simplicity, Andrews’s analysis is comprehensive and holistic. Her book increases the reader’s awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of various treatments, from everyday painkillers to dietary modifications. Advice is also offered on navigating the healthcare system and liaising with its staff. For example, the reader is warned of flaws in the system, such as the dangers of poor communication between healthcare workers. Andrews has no shortage of ideas on how to deal with this. Carers are encouraged to adopt an active role in supporting the psychosocial, emotional and physical needs of people with dementia. Andrews insists that this can make just as much difference to a patient’s welfare as any medical treatment, yet it is often neglected in hospitals. We are therefore prompted to consider many aspects of dementia, not just the medical side.
In summary, the book aims to empower the reader with scientific, technical and practical insights into dementia. At the same time, the reader is armed with strategies for dealing with its effects. With its simple language and multidisciplinary approach, this book is definitely recommended for those affected by dementia, both directly and indirectly. However, I also found it an interesting read, as someone with no significant experience of dementia. It has enhanced my understanding of the condition, which has helped me in relating to those living with it, as part of my work in customer service and in everyday situations. For this reason, I would also recommend this book to anybody who is interested in gaining an insight into the condition that affects a significant 1.5% of our national population. After all, each one of us is likely to be affected or know someone who is affected at some point in our lifetimes.
Alicia is a student at La Trobe University, currently in her final semester of an Arts/Science degree with majors in Chemistry, Japanese and Italian. She is fascinated by the many creative ways in which science can be communicated and the potential these have for public engagement. Outside her studies, Alicia has worked with students to improve their understanding and interest in science, through tutoring and as a peer mentor with the In2Science high school program.