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Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's

Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's

4.5 11
by Meryl Comer

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Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist and leading Alzheimer’s advocate Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing With a Stranger is a profoundly personal, unflinching account of her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease that serves as a much-needed wake-up call to better understand and address a progressive and deadly affliction.

When Meryl


Emmy-award winning broadcast journalist and leading Alzheimer’s advocate Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing With a Stranger is a profoundly personal, unflinching account of her husband’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease that serves as a much-needed wake-up call to better understand and address a progressive and deadly affliction.

When Meryl Comer’s husband Harvey Gralnick was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 1996, she watched as the man who headed hematology and oncology research at the National Institutes of Health started to misplace important documents and forget clinical details that had once been cataloged encyclopedically in his mind. With harrowing honesty, she brings readers face to face with this devastating condition and its effects on its victims and those who care for them. Detailing the daily realities and overwhelming responsibilities of caregiving, Comer sheds intensive light on this national health crisis, using her personal experiences—the mistakes and the breakthroughs—to put a face to a misunderstood disease, while revealing the facts everyone needs to know.

Pragmatic and relentless, Meryl has dedicated herself to fighting Alzheimer’s and raising public awareness. “Nothing I do is really about me; it’s all about making sure no one ends up like me,” she writes. Deeply personal and illuminating, Slow Dancing With a Stranger offers insight and guidance for navigating Alzheimer’s challenges. It is also an urgent call to action for intensive research and a warning that we must prepare for the future, instead of being controlled by a disease and a healthcare system unable to fight it.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
“Riveting and necessary.”
Washington Post
“An unflinching and intimate account...conveys a sense of passion and even frustration with a society that [Comer] believes has been slow to acknowledge the spread of Alzheimer’s disease or make adequate provisions to tend to its caregivers.”
Miami Herald
“Poignant, unflinching….[Comer’s] memoir is deeply personal and all the more powerful for it.”
George Vradenburg
“I think there’s a mythology that Alzheimer’s is a passive fading away of an individual. Meryl’s book highlights in a personal way the real story, the impact of the disease not just on the victim but on the entire family.”
Michael W. Wiener
“As a physician-scientist who has studied Alzhiemer’s disease for more than 25 years, and a son with a 99-year-old mom with Alzheimer’s dementia, I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with the tormenting issues of Alzheimer’s care.”
Eric M. Reiman
“Meryl Comer is one of my heroes. With unflinching courage, candor, and determination, she eloquently underscores the terrible toll that Alzheimer’s takes on patients and families and the urgent need for us to address this unacceptable problem once and for all. ”
Ken Dychtwald
“Written with great insight and tenderness, Slow Dancing With a Stranger is both a cautionary tale and a call to arms as Meryl Comer helps lead the charge to beat this horrific disease before it beats us.”
Tom Rath
Slow Dancing With a Stranger is a remarkable and moving story that will change the way our generation thinks about how we deal with aging and caring for those we love. An amazing journey of caring, love, and resilience.”
Florence Haseltine
“Although [Meryl Comer] would say she doesn’t deserve the recognition, she definitely deserves the ‘Rock Star of Humanity’ award for her caregiving and her humanitarian work.”
Professor Dr. Andrea Pfeifer
Slow Dancing with a Stranger is a poignant story of Alzheimer’s disease robbing memory, personality, life and dignity... Meryl’s book is a daily motivation for me personally to find a medicine against this terrible disease which is impacting so many lives.”
Jeffrey Cummings
“Meryl Comer’s Slow Dancing with a Stranger takes us into the tragedy that is Alzheimer’s disease and shows what is ahead for nearly half of us who live to age 85. We must respond to this emergency and Meryl courageously shows us why.”
Dr. Rudy Tanzi
“Meryl is a trailblazer in every aspect of Alzheimer’s and it shines through in this wonderful new book chronicling her long and winding journey with this devastating disease.”
Mark K. Shriver
“Comer received the Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award in 2004, for her work as a dedicated advocate and remarkable, decade-long caregiver. Fast forward a decade later. In Slow Dancing With A Stranger, Meryl shows what it truly means to stay the course.”
David B. Agus
“Meryl Comer in Slow Dancing with a Stranger unveils Alzheimer’s Disease in a remarkable and vulnerable way. Her personal story provides knowledge, inspiration and hope to us all. Her heroism jumps out from the pages and hopefully will motivate generations to make a difference against this horrible disease.”
Reisa Sperling
“Meryl Comer’s heart wrenching story will resonate with the millions of families who know the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease first hand. Her journey makes a powerful and compelling case for the urgent need to support Alzheimer’s prevention trials.”
Maria Freire
“With her trademark honesty and class, Meryl Comer shares her struggles and triumphs in dealing with Alzheimer’s, one of life’s most devastating diseases. In Slow Dancing With A Stranger, she charts paths that others can follow and recharges the public conversation about a pending global epidemic.”
Ellen Goodman
“No silver linings, no phony homages to ‘spiritual growth.’ Meryl Comer writes the unvarnished reality of being exposed as a wife, daughter, caregiver, and potential Alzheimer’s victim herself. Admire her bravery and honesty and applaud her for taking away some of the loneliness of the long distance caregiver.”
Larry Minnix
“This is a great love story in an era when love has become an all too shallow emotional commodity. ‘For better, for worse, in sickness and in health’ has never been made more powerful in its deepest sense. ”
Susan Dentzer
“Meryl Comer’s account is a page-turner; it is wrenching, soul-baring and beautifully written. It should shock the nation into providing more support—both for Alzheimer’s research and treatments, and for the legions of family caregivers who will bear ever-growing burdens in the future.”
Howard Fillit
“Turning tragedy into art and productive work is a hallmark of the great human spirit. Meryl has done this in a very emotional, engaging and thoughtful manner. The book should be read by all, but especially those with Alzheimer’s disease in their lives.”
Maria Isaac
“An unsparing and moving account of the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease and at the same time a call to arms, a memoir and an accurate clinical description....The author’s account will help open readers’ minds to the need for early diagnosis of this devastating global illness.”
Elizabeth J. McCormack
“Relates in very human terms the essence of palliative care. Not only did the author care for her husband with unconditional love, but optimized whatever physical and mental capacities were left to preserve his dignity. Readers will be inspired to want to help both victims and caregivers.”
Peter V. Rabins
“In an unvarnished account of caring for a husband with dementia, Meryl Comer lays out the struggles and gallantry of a devoted and remarkable caregiver.”
David Shenk
This story is real. Meryl and Harvey are real. I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake the public up to this emerging catastrophe, but I suspect that emotional honesty is a key ingredient. Thank you, Meryl Comer, for telling it exactly like it is.
Gail Sheehy
Alzheimer’s disease is a slow killer of the health and spirit of the caregiver- the secondary victim. Comer’s pain is contained in elegant writing and channeled into a worthy purpose. This book is a call to action as haunting and urgent as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Barry Petersen
“Slow Dancing With A Stranger is the story of how Meryl Comer became an Alzheimer’s caregiver...with no warning, no specific training, and no choice. Read this book to understand Alzheimer’s but cherish it for the story it is, and you will find that every page breathes with her courage.”
Kirkus Reviews
Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer's Initiative CEO Comer offers an unvarnished account of her experience as her husband's caretaker after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.The author has testified before Congress, and she is a founding member of USAgainstAlzheimer's, a co-founder of Women Against Alzheimer's Network and a recipient of the 2005 Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award and the 2007 Proxmire Award. Comer, who spent more than 30 years in broadcast journalism, shares the painful reality of witnessing her husband's decline over the past 20 years. Harvey Gralnick was chief of hematology and oncology at the National Institutes of Health, internationally recognized for his work on leukemia. When Comer and Gralnick married in 1978, both of their careers were on an upward trajectory. Twenty years later, at the age of 58, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. His decline was rapid, as he became increasingly forgetful and at times abusive. For several years before, it had become apparent to Comer and her husband's colleagues that something was wrong, although he denied a problem and refused medical help. Comer chronicles her own confusion and frustration with his behavior. Finally, Gralnick was forced to resign his position, and it became impossible for Comer to maintain her own career while caring for him at home. The author explains why she gives a detailed chronicle of the painful reality of her situation as a caretaker: "I never wanted to embellish or soften the edges around the truth. It does not do justice to the cruelty of the disease." Comer has become an advocate for the need for early diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer's, which is "pushing past cancer and HIV/AIDS as "the most critical public health problem of our times."A poignant love story with a powerful message.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Meryl Comer is an Emmy award–winning reporter, veteran TV producer, and business talk show host. She is president and CEO of the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer's Initiative, which promotes early diagnosis, innovation, and national public service campaigns like Geoffrey Beene's Rock Stars of Science™ and the 2009 HBO Alzheimer's Project. A co-founder of WomenAgainstAlzheimer's, she is a recipient of the 2005 Shriver Profi les in Dignity Award and the 2007 Proxmire Award. Comer has been the subject of prime time news stories by ABC's Nightline and the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

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Slow Dancing With a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
MarthaStettinius More than 1 year ago
This is not your usual Alzheimer's memoir--it's brutally honest, a much-needed account of what long-term Alzheimer's care is really like, and why we desperately need to increase funding for Alzheimer's research. Comer has cared for her husband with early-onset Alzheimer's disease for 20 years, and her mother with Alzheimer's for 10. Her goal in sharing her story is not "to embellish or soften the edges around the truth. It does not do justice to the cruelty of the disease." She believes that if people see "the real face of Alzheimer's, they might be alarmed and offended enough to band together politically." The book IS alarming, but well written and edited. It's also extremely important, as Alzheimer's is growing into a worldwide epidemic, with one in 8 people over age 65 developing the disease, and nearly 50% over age 85. One in three adults in the U.S. dies with Alzheimer's disease (although their death certificate may list another cause of death). And Alzheimer's is the only cause of death in the top 10 with no proven means of prevention, no cure, and no means of slowing the progression of the disease. As a reader, however, I found myself wishing midway through that Comer would have offered more insight into how she found the strength to continue fighting for her husband, her mother and her own well-being. What has kept her going? Grit? Love? Faith? Only near the end of the book does Comer mention the ways she has found support--how much, for example, she values the handful of close friends who have not abandoned her, and her early-onset Alzheimer's disease support group. Comer's purpose for writing this book is not to be to inspire hope but to show as clearly as possible why Alzheimer's disease needs to receive the same level of attention and research funding as other major diseases--diseases which have seen a decrease in mortality rates while the incidence of Alzheimer's disease is rising. In her role with the Geoffrey Beene Foundation Alzheimer's Initiative, Comer is a leading proponent of research into preventing Alzheimer's disease in people who have not yet shown symptoms, and of early diagnosis for those who do show symptoms. Her primary motivation is the desire to pull the private struggle of dementia caregiving into the light of public awareness. "Nothing I do," she says, "is really about me; it's all about making sure no one ends up like me." Honest and unapologetic, Comer helps to bring the personal trauma of Alzheimer's disease out of the shadows. "We are all stakeholders when it comes to Alzheimer's disease," she says, "and we are all at risk." As Alzheimer's grows into the public health crisis of the 21st century, we need this kind of storytelling if we are to find the collective will to face the crisis head-on. --author, "Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter's Memoir
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the first half of the book and could really associate with the writer. I'm my husband's sole caregiver who is in the moderate stage of Alzheimer's. I was able to learn a few skills from her as to how to cope with taking care of your spouse and still remain somewhat normal. However, as I got farther into the book, I no longer really could associate with her. As at that point, she was writing more about what she was doing to bring awareness to this dreadful disease. Which I admire her being able to do so. However, our circumstances are much different. My husband is a Vietnam Veteran and is being treated at the local VA Hospital/Clinic. But, other than that and Medicare, he has no insurance nor do we have savings or a big retirement (he's on SS) so there's no money even for nurses at home. Unlike her story plus I don't have the contacts that she does for help. So overall the book was of little help to me but was a ok read.
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by Fiona Ingram for Readers' Favorite Imagine that your talented, brilliant husband, a renowned scientist and doctor devoted to his patients, starts to exhibit erratic behaviour patterns, becomes aggressive when questioned, and becomes ‘someone else?’ In Slow Dancing with a Stranger, this is what happened to journalist and author Meryl Comer. It took two years and a painful battery of tests before Harvey Gralnik was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age fifty-eight. This was a devastating blow to both Harvey and Meryl, and their family and friends. What followed is a nearly twenty-year odyssey of trauma, hardship and tragedy as Harvey declined mentally and physically. After a series of disasters with care homes, Meryl gave up her stellar career to nurse Harvey at home with the help of a team of dedicated care-givers. Another blow fell when her mother, too, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and also came to live with Meryl. Caring for these two people became the focus of Meryl’s existence. Meryl’s book dedication is to her grandchildren, that may their memories last a lifetime. Memories are what we take for granted. When we forget something small and inconsequential, like where we placed our keys, it’s nothing. Imagine forgetting everything, even who you are. I was moved as Slow Dancing with a Stranger detailed how Harvey disintegrated from a true Renaissance man—cultured, elegant, educated, gracious, charming and creative—into a shambling shell who might lash out in rage at any minute against his wife and caregivers. As I read, I could hardly believe the horror of what Alzheimer’s can do, and there is no cure. The statistics on Alzheimer’s are frightening. Every sixty-eight seconds, someone falls victim, but fifty percent are never diagnosed. The disease affects 5.4 million people in the US and 44 million worldwide. What is clear from reading this harrowing memoir is that the average person has no concept of what it is like to live with and care for someone with Alzheimer’s. Forget the sepia tinged idea of a sufferer just having more than a few ‘senior moments.’ There is no glamour and very little reward in caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Meryl’s brutally honest account describes a descent into a kind of nightmarish madness, hideous for both the caregiver and the sufferer. Fighting a dread disease is made easier when the patient can fight back, too, along with their family, loved ones and medical team. Imagine when the silent enemy is insidiously eating away at all that one cherishes: one’s memories, one’s capacity for human behaviour, one’s sense of self. Closeness, or intimacy, and shared memories define relationships. When you have no memories, you have no ‘you.’ The loss of social restraints, the loss of memory and identity, the loss of connection with people they once loved and who love them is painfully and agonisingly described in Meryl’s words. Writing with elegance and simplicity, the author cogently describes a hellish journey that most of us would have given up on, a labour of love beyond what any average person would take on. The author asks and answers many soul searching questions in her book, the most important one being why take on this burden? Was it out of love, duty, or guilt? Perhaps Meryl answers that best with these words: “No one deserves to be forgotten in life because their disease is without hope.” This book is a must-read, no matter your age.
CathrynTheGreat More than 1 year ago
Though the author gets raves reviews in the blurbs for writing this book, I have to ask myself why did she write it. If I were the caregiver for a person with Alzheimer's Disease - especially during the early stages of the disease -- to read this book would be nightmare. I might even want to slit my own wrists. I am not suggesting that the truth be hidden, but the author is simply over the top with horrific details. We hear way to much about incontinence, lose of bowel control, and over the top aggression. How many times does she have to tell us. We get the picture. I also wonder about the choices she made as a caregiver. While they seem selfless, I perceive a hidden agenda, or a need to be needed. To be honest, her husband doesn't seem like such a great guy to be married to before the onset of his symptoms. I am sure I am in the minority as to this opinion, but I think Meryl Comer likes to be in the spotlight. And, I do think that caregivers have rights too; she is not the hero she has been painted to be. It is not clear to me what her advocacy has accomplished. All that said, this book does demonstrate what a catastrophe and potential time bomb Alzheimer's Disease represents for the next generation.
Anonymous 8 days ago
It is definitely time to find the triggers to this disease rather than waiting for symtoms to appear.
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