Author: Joseph J. Sivak M.D.
ISBN: 978-0-615-31489-1
Publisher: Niagara Press

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Joseph J. Sivak's When Can I Go home is a exceptional memoir written with abundance of warmth and dramatic power that will keep you continually captivated until its final chapter. It is a far cry from the many mundane books concerning Alzheimer's disease, as it avoids dwelling on the technical aspects of this dreaded and incurable disease. Rather, it presents a poignant narrative of the author's agonizing journey as a caregiver at the age of seventeen, when his sixty-two year old mother was diagnosed in 1979 with Alzheimer's-an era when most people never even heard of the disease.

Dr. Sivak points out the parent-child roles were reversed- it all seemed surreal. It was as if his life was de-railed from the one he had planned to travel as a teenager. He was picked off his own train tracks and placed into a new setting. He states: “The confusing emotions associated with caring for my mother seemed to tear me into different pieces. Part of me was the child wanting his mother, part was angry and trapped and just wanted to grow up, while another part was the emerging compassionate caregiver.” In passing, his mother's diagnosis occurred one year after he had lost his father, making it even more difficult for him to accept and process. Nonetheless, he managed to continue to move on, and his experiences would eventually serve as a touchstone when he became a Psychiatrist, later in life. His anger, frustration and eventual helplessness that emerged from feeling trapped were paired together with and perhaps partially alleviated by his emerging compassion and his development of his personality into that of a caregiver. He recounts that his chosen profession as a psychiatrist and the work he does everyday became a benchmark and symbol for the development and refinement of his compassion. As a side note, Dr. Sivak mentions that ironically the very thing that disciplined him and spurred him to work hard during his pre-med student days and subsequent acceptance into medical school was his mother's illness. And his acting as a caregiver to his mother, which he describes as his principal extracurricular activity, probably turned the tide in his favor in being accepted into medical school over many other well-qualified students.

Interwoven into this extraordinary book is Dr. Sivak's professional experiences as a psychiatrist concerning individuals confronted with Alzheimer's disease, either as a patient or caregiver. He reminds us that it is not an easy task to walk the line of educator, mentor, advocate and guide. Brought to light are the multitude of sticky and demanding issues that physicians face when making a diagnosis of Alzheimer. As he spells out, it is essential to know, provide, translate and break down all the data patients share with you, what they need and want. And in the final analysis help them decide what is in their best interest. Many times there exists a high emotional level of family members when they are informed that a loved one has this incurable disease, frequently leading to displaced anger on the physician. Another challenge is that physicians must be very cautious not to say the wrong thing or say the right thing in the wrong way. As clarified: “Such concepts as giving up driving entering a nursing home, and even making a possible diagnosis must be approached gingerly. Every patient and every family possesses and handles information differently.”

When Can I Go Home is an emotionally charged and unique moving journey, wherein the author narrates a finely tuned story in a voice that blends two perspectives; one that portrays a young lad burdened with the task of caring for his mother with an incurable disease, the other, this same individual, acting as a physician called upon to treat countless victims of Alzheimer's, as well as other mental diseases.

Perhaps, someday this disease will be conquered. Until then, and as Dr. Sivak elegantly summarizes, “if you are caring for a loved one with the disorder, then love them, and love them more each day, as if they were your infant or child. No one deserves this illness, no family deserves the devastation.” Just as we are human beings with emotions and spirits, so are your loved ones, even though they may be afflicted by Alzheimer's.

Joseph J. Sivak MD, is a board certified adult psychiatrist with over twenty years of experience in direct patient care. He has taught and lectured in the USA and elsewhere in the areas of Post Traumatic Street Disorder, Mood disorders, and chronic suicidal ideation. He is a graduate of Hahnemann University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and he did his residency training at the University of Rochester. He has also hosted a weekly mental health Radio Program for eight years. Presently, he serves on the legislative committee of the Minnesota Medical Association and he is also a professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth College of Pharmacy.

Click Here To Read Norm's Interview With Dr. Joseph J. Sivak

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