An Interview with John Thorndike (video)

John Thorndike, one of the authors participating in this year’s Books by the Banks: Cincinnati USA Book Festival, is most recently the author of The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s. Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

In this engrossing memoir, author Thorndike (Anna DeLaney’s Child, Another Way Home: A Single Father’s Story) tells a touching story of family, death, discovery and devotion, in which Thorndike probes his journalist father’s accomplishments and losses, his relationships and his wife’s tragic suicide. When his father Joe Thorndike, suffering at age 92 from congestive heart failure and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, can no longer take care of himself, Thorndike offers to live with him. Over the following year, Thorndike chronicles his father’s growing incapacity, and seeks to learn more about him despite the dying man’s lifelong all-but-impenetrable reserve. While much of the book details Thorndike’s difficulties caretaking for his father, he heightens the proceedings with family tales, including some from his father’s editorial work at the heyday of Life, working with bold named figures like the Luces, Whittaker Chambers, James Thurber and Winston Churchill. A beautiful book, this memoir reveals the painful chaos of Alzheimer’s, as well as the strength, faith and unexpected joys that come with caring for a loved one in his last days.

(worth reading: local critic Jane Durrell’s review on Cincinnati City Beat)

While his account of this mysterious and debilitating disease is ultimately rooted in deeply personal experiences (something we can all relate to), a great deal of research also went into its writing. Thorndike chronicles his research on Alzheimer’s in a fascinating (and ongoing) blog ( He writes:

It’s the diagnosis we fear, and—if we grow old enough—our almost-inevitable future. Even now, half of everyone over 85 suffers from some level of the disease. We are looking at a public health disaster.

At the same time, it’s not the disease I hear most about, it’s family stories, with all the warmth and love and chaos that families generate. Because we’re paying more attention to the elderly these days, of course we’re going to hear more about Alzheimer’s and other dementias. We can’t ignore it or turn our backs on our parents, siblings and spouses. Though not what we planned for our parent’s old age, or our own, Alzheimer’s has crept into almost every family.

In this blog we’ll pay attention, and make the best of it. If nothing else, I’ve found, it’s a disease that’s completely fascinating.

Be sure to drop by Books By the Banks to say hello to John Thorndike on October 2, 2010 from 10am-4pm at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati! If you have personal experience caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, it is comforting to know that there are others who can relate to your experience.

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