This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.
“Whenever Peter and his mother argued, part of him believed that if he just found the right words, his mother would understand and everything could be resolved”
An increasing number of books are being published, fiction and nonfiction, that explore aspects of clinical conditions indexed under the label of dementia. An aging population means more people will have to live with this debilitating disease – as patients and carers. Most literature I have read on the subject to date focuses on the patient, perhaps with the aim of providing comfort or elucidation to carers. Relatives, in particular, of those whose brain function is deteriorating can come to feel guilty and alone as they struggle to remain calm when dealing with what feels like an onslaught of personally targeted vitriol. They may know logically it is the illness talking but such attacks, often repeated and denied, come through as perceived criticism of necessary interventions and can be challenging to take.
Travellers to Unimaginable Lands documents the author’s personal experience alongside case studies they have worked on as a counsellor to caregivers. Kiper explains why a healthy human brain will naturally struggle to deal with someone whose cognitive functions are being eroded. In clear and persuasive language she details how humans are psychologically programmed to expect certain behaviours, and if these are not forthcoming there will be stress reactions. Loved ones can cause deeply felt upset as they use shared history and long running reproofs as weapons drawn from within their illness.
“when caregivers are yelled at, lied to, ignored, unfairly accused, or not recognized, how can this not affect their sense of self?”
Also examined is how the mind processes memory. Just as there is an orbital blind spot of which most remain unaware, as the brain fills in the gap and vision appears complete, so memories are rebuilt each time aspects are recalled – and can therefore differ over time. The roles of conscious and unconscious decision making are discussed, something that enables a dementia sufferer to conceal symptoms of their illness, especially in situations they have long performed within such as social or work contexts. We all like to feel in control yet are often driven by reaction rather than considered action.
“what makes the self truly sneaky is that it believes itself impervious to outside influences, whereas in fact it collapses all too easily under the weight of social pressure”
The various case studies explore why a patient may behave in certain ways. An individual’s actions and arguments often stem from their life experiences although this may be masked by how the illness manifests. Carers’ reactions to situations they have struggled with are then delved into by the author. Knowing it is the disease driving behaviour will not always be enough to prevent the healthy brain reacting as comes naturally, often resulting in deep feelings of guilt.
The psychology of care giving proved fascinating to read as did the explanations of why interactions with dementia sufferers can be so challenging. One niggle I had with the case studies was the author’s habit of describing how a client looked – their body shape and eye colour. This felt irrelevant compared to state of mind, skill sets and the reasoning around occasional breakdowns.
Mostly, however, this was an interesting angle from which to explore a growing problem that garners much overt criticism from those as yet unaffected.
Any Cop?: A worthwhile and accessible read both for carers and those who may not understand the pressures under which these often underappreciated workers must somehow find ways to survive the loss of a loved one who continues to live.