Agnes Juhasz’ The Dementia Whisperer, a beautifully written story about learning to care for people with dementia, has profoundly altered my own perception of what is possible. With all that we doctors know about the process of the disease and the episodic snapshots we get into the effects it has on patients and carers, this book has highlighted how little I actually know about how to really care for someone whose every action tests the limits of our patience and compassion. It is a humbling and inspiring read.
The horror of losing our memory and identity is deeply ingrained in all of us. The sadness of watching someone lose their faculties is something all doctors have seen over and over again. What I have never seen before, and what makes Agnes’ book so unique, is the insight into what caring for a person with dementia really feels like. How does one cope with the anger that we cannot help feeling when someone insults us? Her description of how she learned to respect and support people who are sometimes aggressively challenging is hugely valuable. For the first time I have been able to imagine a method of dealing with this behaviour in patients or loved ones.
Agnes Juhasz’ choice to move from journalism to nursing to caring for and championing people with dementia is fascinating in itself. Her writing is clear and compelling and the descriptions of her fears and frustrations are often as funny as they are sad.
The Dementia Whisperer returns again and again to the simple principle that everyone is deserving of respect. No matter how challenging, they are still human and their condition is utterly outside of their control. Agnes offers real practical insights into how this can be done.
This book should be read by every clinician. The clear theme of finding love for the unlovable goes to the heart of what we all struggle with as carers and healers. A theme that is hugely challenging for all of us and our assumptions about what we do as doctors. The journey that Agnes Juhasz’ The Dementia Whisperer takes us on must be taken to fully accept humanity’s highs and lows.
Dr Seth Rankin is a GP and the founder and CEO of the London Doctors Clinic
The Dementia Whisperer: Scenes from the frontline of caring is published by Hammersmith Health Books