In “Not Going Gently,” Constance Vincent writes about how Alzheimer’s disease destroyed her mother and drove a wedge between family members.
Alzheimer’s is a family disease.
That’s partly why Constance Vincent, Ph.D., thinks people ought to be more frightened of it than cancer.
“Most cancers can be treated,” she said.
That’s not the case with Alzheimer’s.
An expert in developmental psychology and a former university professor, Vincent has written a book about her family’s struggle with the disease, documenting the long, sad decline of her once-vibrant mother.
“Not Going Gently” is a tale that will resonate with more and more families as dementia claims more and more victims.
And that population is only going to increase, Vincent noted, as baby boomers move from caring for aging parents to becoming aged themselves.
The cost of caring for patients with dementia is expected to reach $1.2 trillion by 2050.
The book’s title comes from a famous poem by Dylan Thomas.
“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is about fighting the helplessness often associated with old age and death.
“I wasn’t particularly aware of Alzheimer’s disease when I saw my parents slip into cognitive decline,” Vincent said.
Vincent began keeping records of the changes. The material became the basis for the book when her mother, Madeline, was denied surgery on the grounds that she was too old.
“There were too many things going on here. I wanted to tell her story, but I also became engrossed by the research [into Alzheimer’s]”, said Vincent. “I thought it would be interesting to combine research and the personal story.”
“Not Going Gentle” records Madeline’s gradual loss of function and memory, and Vincent’s despair at her inability to help.
The book is also quite frank about the problems in the family (Madeline and her husband Michael raised three daughters and a son) and the factionalism that separated the children.
They did not all see eye to eye on where Madeline should live, what level of care she needed, and who would know all the details.
That struggle has made Vincent an advocate for parents to have serious — and early — discussions with their adult children on finances, care, and other end-of-life issues.
The subject is one that readers of the book have taken seriously, she said. Some have told her the book motivated them to initiate family talks.
“We need different ways of caring for people,” she said. “And they need to be more humanistic and less about institutions.”
The second function of the book is to examine the scientific research and possible preventive strategies.
Vincent discusses the importance of a vitamin regimen that includes the B vitamins, vitamin D, glutathione, essential fatty acids, and alpha-lipoic acid. She also details the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which features fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
“I’m not consistent or scientific” in taking pills, Vincent admitted. “I try out supplements, but they’re not the same every day.”
Even so, she’s noticed that she’s more forgetful if she doesn’t take the pills for a few days.
Vincent bases her choices on current research, which offers no cure or definitive treatment but does suggest that certain behaviors reduce risk.
For example, regular exercise appears to lower risk by building more neurons in the brain.
Vincent said she has noticed the same risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease contribute to dementia as well. Those conditions include unhealthy weight, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and high cholesterol.
The conclusion she draws from her research is: “Up to half of the risk for Alzheimer’s disease is potentially under our control.”
However, Vincent’s knowledge of health strategies came too late to help her mother.
“Alzheimer’s disease prevention starts young,” she said. “There’s damage in the brain decades before any symptoms appear.”