The Barnes & Noble Review
Writer Thomas DeBaggio, who was diagnosed with the early onset of Alzheimer's disease at age 57, describes Losing My Mind as "the story of a man surprised by his body and the sudden deterioration of his mind," but it is far more than that. In addition to being a highly original and, at times, devastatingly poignant memoir of illness, the book is nothing short of a real-time account of witnessing one's identity slip away through a pattern of increasingly serious memory lapses, ranging from misspelled words to the experience of winding up in different rooms of the house without knowing why.
DeBaggio writes, "Sometimes I go into the kitchen for a drink of water. By the time I get there I can't remember why I am there, but my body ends up at the ice machine. I stand in front of the ice machine and stare at it. From somewhere inside my head comes the message 'You are in front of the ice machine because you want a glass of water.' At other times I can't remember why I went into the room and my body and mind are no help to me. Sometime later my mind flashes a message and I remember but it is so long ago I am no longer interested."
Listeners of National Public Radio may be familiar with a series of interviews DeBaggio and members of his family did with Noah Adams aimed at increasing public awareness about Alzheimer's by illustrating the progress of his disease. The book is written in the same spirit but differs in that it weaves together three distinct narrative lines. One records the author's earliest long-term memories, beginning in childhood and continuing up through the 1970s. Another takes a more clinical view, describing the latest Alzheimer's research. Both of these are of interest, but more powerful by far is DeBaggio's own first-person narrative chronicling his attempts to manage his present condition and make sense of his daily life.
It is in this voice that he writes, "One of the small pleasures of having any illness is the opportunity it provides to tell people about it." Yet in another passage he admits to being "afraid to write because watching the words come out distorted is painful and it reveals the destructive power of the disease over which I have no control." Anyone concerned about Alzheimer's will be thankful he sought out the small pleasures rather than succumbing to his fears, and will hope he continues to do so. (P. L. Jennings)
Hideous irony, that a memoir about memory loss could be so unforgettable. At fifty-seven, DeBaggio, a commercial gardener who has written books on the subject, finds himself in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Writing from the afflicted point of view was a difficult undertaking. "After 40 years of pussyfooting with words," he says, "I finally had a story of hell to tell." The author puts on a brave face but thankfully doesn't try to maintain it throughout. The book's unconventional narrative combines childhood memories with excerpts from medical reports; its choppy style is a necessary consequence of DeBaggio's diminishing condition. Oddly, the approach helps him explain the disease that is fast becoming unexplainable for him. DeBaggio frets that he lived "an ordinary life by definition"—only to conclude that the hand he's been dealt is anything but ordinary. This amazing book is both a lament and a muted kind of celebration. "It is the most exciting time in my life," DeBaggio acknowledges. "As it should be."
"I have a clear sense of history, I just don't know whether it is mine," writes DeBaggio in this moving and unusual memoir. The author, who has previously written about his gardening business (Growing Herbs from Seed, Cutting and Root), documents his mental deterioration from Alzheimer's. Diagnosed with the disease in 1999 at the age of 57, DeBaggio undertook this project in order to increase awareness of this devastating illness from a patient's point of view. He describes how his gradual loss of memory has impacted his life. For example, after he became confused about how to get to his niece's house, he realized he had to give up driving a car. The increased loss of language has been extremely difficult for a man who once worked as a journalist and a freelance writer. Interspersed throughout the narrative are DeBaggio's recollections of his childhood events that may soon be lost to him. He also describes the disease's negative effect on his wife and grown son. Although DeBaggio provides information on the medical advances that are being made to treat this disease, it is clear that a breakthrough will come too late for him. With this rare first-person account, DeBaggio has made a significant contribution to literature on an illness that currently affects four million Americans. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
In 1999, when he was 57 years old, DeBaggio was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Shortly thereafter, he began this moving memoir. A former journalist, professional gardener, and author of two gardening books, DeBaggio was determined to record the course of his illness "to break through the sense of shame and silence [that] Alzheimer's has engendered and to tell the world what it is like." He recounts stories from his past, daily life since his diagnosis, and its effect on his wife and son, along with summaries of scientific information about Alzheimer's gleaned from the professional literature. Interspersed with that information are his almost epigrammatic musings on the loneliness, fear, anger, and even puzzlement engendered by this "evil disease that sleeps on the edge of [his] consciousness." DeBaggio soon discovered that Alzheimer's freed him to "write seriously and well." Truly, the act of remembering and writing gave purpose to his days when he could no longer work in his greenhouses. However, finding the words to express himself eventually became "insurmountable," and his ability to perform everyday tasks gradually diminished; he found himself struggling to finish the book before "there [was] no memory left." DeBaggio's vivid descriptions of changes in memory and thought patterns, as well as his nocturnal visual hallucinations, illuminate this harrowing disease as few other first-person accounts have. Highly recommended. [Thanks to medications, the author is doing fairly well. Ed.] Karen McNally Bensing, Benjamin Rose Inst. Lib., Cleveland Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
David Shenk author of The Forgetting Terrifying, invigorating, and life-affirming. We owe Tom DeBaggio a debt for his tireless curiosity.
Teresa Weaver The Atlanta Journal-Constitution A brave, disturbing, immensely personal story...the insights are so pure, so startling, it's a remarkable offering.
Chicago Tribune Poetic and funny, painful and poignant....Losing My Mind is a haunting, enlightening work.
Robert Lee Hotz Los Angeles Times DeBaggio vividly articulates the profound shock and despair of one person in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. It is a story made all the more compelling because that person is himself.