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Book Review: SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW by: WENDY MITCHELL

Book Review: SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW by: WENDY MITCHELL

Wendy Mitchell’s first book, Somebody I used to know, is all the more moving knowing it will also, probably, be her last. Wendy was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of fifty-eight. The book describes her confusing journey pre-diagnosis, when she felt ‘an impending sense of something.’ When her worst fears were realised, she was faced with an uncertain future and, no longer to able to cope with the demands of her supervisory role within the National Health Service, a tremendous sense of loss.

She describes Alzheimer’s as ‘a thief in the night, stealing precious pictures from our lives while we sleep.’

It’s a heart-rending read but also one of hope. Wendy fought to outwit dementia and, quite often, won the battle. She was made to feel stupid, humiliated and worthless and was forced to say goodbye to the things she loved the most. Driving became impossible and the phone became her enemy. But as a single mother of two daughters, she refused to think of dementia as the end. ‘Dementia has a beginning before the end and so much life to live in between.’

The book includes sections written to her pre-dementia self. How she wished she hadn’t taken her independence for granted and had known her lasts were just that; her last run, her last drive, her last everything.

Keen to prove she was still capable of living an active, independent life, she became a Dementia Friends Champion, joined Dementia Research, and even met a Hollywood actress, explaining each encounter with poignancy and humour.

She refused to give in to stereotype and explains how she resisted the decline. She accepted every invitation to speak, or to listen and insisted that ‘suffering from’ be replaced with ‘living with’, a much more positive alternative.

Her determination to outmaneuver the daily challenges forced upon her by Alzheimer’s is inspiring to all. Hers is a story of strength, courage and perseverance and one to be appreciated by everyone, regardless of age or circumstance. Dementia may have stolen the words from her mouth, but it certainly hasn’t stolen her eloquence or her ability to share her thoughts. This book may be emotionally challenging at times, but it’s also enlightening, buoyant and compelling.

As Wendy says in her own words, ‘Even as our memories fade, it’s not too late for new ones to be made.’

Her insight into the thoughts and feelings of those living with dementia provides a voice to so many. It also helps to understand what lies behind the confusion and vacancy associated with the disease and how a smile or the touch of a hand can mean so much. Readers of this extraordinary memoir will be rooting for the author from the start.

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