Sometimes parts of life intersect in such a way as to make me smile, thoughtful, and thankful all at the same time. At a recent Pilgrims’ Friend Society Trustees meeting, we were given a copy of this new book from SPCK, which shares the story and profound reflections of Dr. Jennifer Bute. Bute was a highly qualified doctor – starting at a time when a woman in that role was surprising – with particular insight into dementia. Without ruining the story – this is on the back cover – Bute began to notice the way that her own health was deteriorating, yet masked by her vivacity and skills. This book makes for fascinating and illuminating reading, inviting the reader into a life well lived, even as the end draws near.
Bute’s story is her own to tell – and it is told beautifully. Tellingly, she writes with Louise Morse, who is well known in Christian circles for her books on issues around dementia and ageing. About halfway through this relatively short book Bute pivots from biography to deep reflection. As she shares the way her life began to change – up to and after the diagnosis of young-onset dementia – I found myself occasionally tearing up, as Bute unpacks honestly the effects of the changes in her mind, and the impact of it on her life and work. Perhaps the most profound aspect of the book is the way that she self-deprecatingly weaves in examples of what is essentialy a deteriorating cognitive state, with humour and practical application.
This practical application is perhaps the selling point of this book. In just over 120 pages, Bute and Morse offer some practical advice for loving the over 500,000 people in the UK living with Dementia, at various ages and stages. If you are someone involved in caring for someone in this situation, or are concerned about a relative, then the advice here is priceless, in my opinion. Chapter Six, ‘Don’t Disable – enable’ is particularly important, as both a reminder of the importance of the person’s dignity and a set of practical advice on the topic. It reminded me of Roy McCloughry’s The Enabled Life, which whilst dealing with disability more generally, would be a useful complement to this book.
Dementia from the Inside is one of the best books I’ve read this year – and I’d recommend it if you are at all interested in the topic. It is both a beautiful personal story, and a readable practical guide to loving people affected by one of the biggest social issues of today. The way that Dementia from the Inside blends sound medical advice with a living faith, seen through the lens of one person’s story, makes it a profound book. I think it is rare for a book to both make me cry, and make me nod and note things for when I’m next seeing certain people, or having conversations.
If this book has whet your appetite for thinking about how to care for those with Dementia, or older people generally, do check out Faith in Later Life’s excellent website. If you’ve got older Christian relatives and are thinking about homes for them, do check out Pilgrims’ Friend Society. Finally, if you want to read a little more into related issues, do check out my growing bibliography (which I’m intending to add to!)