(Book review) Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything - Author Sally Magnusson

Author Sally Magnusson
Author Sally Magnusson

Where do lost memories go? How can family faces or once-loved places become bewilderingly unfamiliar over the years? If I lose my memories, am I still me?

Addressing the uncomfortable subject of dementia in a beautiful way must have been a formidable task for renowned broadcaster Sally Magnusson.

But here in this gem of a book - a memoir interspersed with gentle scientific explanation - Sally pays an eloquent homage to her remarkable mother Mamie Baird, one of the finest journalists of her generation, as dementia slowly begins to take hold.

An extraordinary writer, bursting with mirthful energy, and with always a razor-sharp quip or a song up her sleeve, Mamie has always been the life and soul of the party.

Then her family start to notice subtle changes in her behaviour: a slight dimming of her inquisitive spark, an increasing forgetfulness. Ever the determined, unflappable clan, Mamie’s family rally around her to see her down the long and harrowing dementia road, wherever it might take them all.

Magnusson pens her observations, fears and triumphs as if chatting to her mother, using the second person ‘you’. We somehow get the impression we are the privileged witness to an intimate conversation, with the story looping back to happier times in a way that Mamie’s memories no longer can.

For someone as gifted with words as the great Mamie Baird, be it poetry, a love letter, the basis of an impressive career, or the key to meeting her husband; losing the power of words (as dementia makes reading and speech more difficult) is perhaps the cruelest sentence an illness can impose.

But the story shows that despite the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s, which take over the neurons in the brain; the person we knew is still there, and should be treated with dignity and kindness. And where words fail, fascinatingly, music can speak.

Music seems to be one of the mind’s impervious defences; one thing dementia cannot destroy.

‘Where Memories Go’ speaks to us all in some way. Whether we are touched by dementia, concerned about care for the elderly, or considering our own futures, our understanding of the needs and sensitivities of those unable to express them has a long way to go. Magnusson faces this social, medical, economic, and moral dilemma head on.

This is a deeply moving and inspiring tale of resilient family togetherness, and the need to keep a staunch sense of humour when everything else is going awry.

Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything

Publisher: Two Roads

Review by Alexie Frize-Williams (Milngavie Bookshop)