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Dancing With Rose

Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's
One journalist's riveting – and surprisingly hopeful – in-the-trenches look at Alzheimer's
Lauren Kessler
Like many loved ones of Alzheimer's sufferers, Lauren Kessler ( was devastated by the ravaging disease that seemed to turn her mother into another person before claiming her life. To better understand the confounding aspects of living with a condition that afflicts four and a half million people a year, Kessler, an accomplished journalist, enlists as a bottom-rung caregiver at a residential Alzheimer's facility she calls Maplewood.
Life inside Maplewood is exhausting and humbling, a microenvironment built upon the intense relationships between two groups of marginalized people: the victims of Alzheimer's and the underpaid, overworked employees who care for them. It is their charge to feed, clothe, bathe, and tend to the needs of dozens of residents, many of whom have only the most tenuous connection to the world around them. But what surprises Kessler more than the disability and the backbreaking work is the grace, humor, and unexpected humanity that are alive and well at Maplewood.
The residents in Kessler's care give a human face to what has always been considered a dehumanizing condition, and transform her notions about the disease and "end-of-life" in general. Among those in her care are Hayes, a dapper 91-year-old, a formerly stoic man who has become, under the influence of Alzheimer's, talkative and witty with the timing of a Borscht Belt comedian; Marianne, a sophisticated, educated career woman who lives in a well developed, completely logical, entirely fictional world of her own creation; Rose, deeply demented, seemingly unreachable; and Eloise, gentle and self-effacing during the day, contentious and needy at night, who becomes Kessler's adopted mother.
Dancing with Rose is forceful and funny, clear-eyed and compelling. An illuminating and intriguing narrative about the relationships and realities of elder care, Kessler's immersion offers a new, optimistic view on what Alzheimer's has to teach us, and is a much-needed tonic for the many people faced with providing care for someone they love.