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Book Notes

Written by Frederika Pronk
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My Journey Into Alzheimer's Disease, Helpful Insights for Family and Friends; a true story by Robert Davis with help from his wife Betty (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, 1989; 140 pp.).
More and more families are experiencing first-hand the effects of the debilitating and dreaded Alzheimer's Disease. As we tend to have a longer life-span, this disease of aging which effects the brain and changes the whole personality is becoming increasingly more common. Almost every community now has an Alzheimer Society where much useful information to help families cope when this crippling disease strikes, may be obtained. For family members it can be a worse experience than watching a terminally ill person die, because this disease enfeebles the mind, changes the personality changes and estranges the patient from loved ones before they die physically. The disease usually comes on gradually and is therefore hard to diagnose at the onset. It is not often, therefore, that patients diagnosed with this disease still have the ability to give a first-hand experience of what it is like to have this disease. This book therefore is unusual, also because it is written by an ordained minister. Because of the nature of his work , he was diagnosed in the very early stages of this disease and able to write what the effects of this brain-deadening disease had on him.

When the author's doctor diagnosed his condition at the age of 53, he was told, "I wish I could tell you that it's cancer..." (p.9). Cancer can usually be treated and its effects are mainly physical, but Alzheimer's is not treatable and it effects the whole person, mind, body and spirit. The author describes the changes which he observed in himself during the early stages: unexplainable fear, sleepless nights, inability to focus on what he was reading, confusion about where he was, fear of crowds, sudden and unexpected outbursts of anger, general frustration, and loss of memory so that he could not remember Scripture, identify people or even sing in church. He speaks of depression, loneliness and panic attacks he experienced. It is the description of his spiritual forsakenness which is most touching. He describes it as emptiness, forsakenness, doubt, fear, and darknes he calls "a black hole". At such times "neither prayer, nor Bible reading, nor meditation, nor assurances from friends, nor Christian radio, ... or tape programs bring any comfort in such a state." With the help of his wife who reminded him of Bible verses, sometimes the gloom was penetrated and at one time he experienced an overwhelming "burst of supernatural peace of Christ" which gave him hope and peace that God would continue to be with him even though the symptoms continue to be felt. I "feel like an orphan child, alone, deserted, and never to be found again. I feel this way, but the mind that remains assures me on the basis of God's own work that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I fear the day when my mind will lose this capacity as well. Then I must rely solely on those who love me to keep me close to the Father by their prayers, and to reassure me with songs and touch and simple words of Scripture." (pp.109-10).

Much more could be quoted from this book, but this is enough to show the value of this book for Christian care givers, families, friends, but also ministers and other spiritual counsellors. This formerly "successful" minister of the Gospel mentions the importance of human touching and simple Gospel teaching. His advice for those who deal with Alzheimer sufferers is to love them, hold them, and very simply tell them about Jesus, that He is the good and faithful Shepherd.

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