Not that long ago, it was a commonly held belief that dementia was the result of not using your mind enough in old age. Keep doing crosswords and your mind will be just fine. The chronicling of Iris Murdoch’s decline due to Alzheimer’s put paid to that old tale. Her last work, Jackson’s Dilemma, was studied to find out if there were clues to her Alzheimer’s and the researchers observed a reduction in vocabulary and a simplification of language. Jackson’s Dilemma was not written by someone aware of their dementia. Somebody I Used to Know is.
Serialised as Radio 4’s Book of the Week, it is the first memoir about Alzheimer’s by someone with it. Wendy Mitchell (pictured above), an NHS worker and single mother, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 58.
It’s the loss of knowledge that has been taken for granted for decades being stripped away that makes this so stark at times. A lifetime of baking must suddenly end. Having regularly made cakes for a local hospice, Wendy takes the mix from the oven and finds it inedible. Only the week before, she had confused teaspoons for tablespoons. “I feel a visceral grief at saying goodbye, this time to baking, something I’ve done my whole life.”
Having brought up her two daughters alone, she is horrified when she realises that, for the first time in 34 years, she has forgotten one of their birthdays.
The Alzheimer’s Society send Wendy to review the early-onset Alzheimer’s drama, Still Alice.