Loving, caring and growing old is a beautiful yet challenging journey. At times it can be very lonely, especially if you’re caring for a parent or a partner. Books can be a constant companion. Knowing that the things you’re experiencing are being written about, discussed and more recently hitting the silver screen, can be reassuring. Only by talking about elderly issues do they become less taboo and more accepted.
It might feel alien to immerse yourself into a literal world that’s mirroring your reality, but we hope these books will offer comfort, guidance and inspiration.
Snuggle up with a cuppa, a packet of biscuits and start planning your next read.
1. I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron (memoir)
Nora Ephron never made it to old age: she died aged 71, from pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukaemia. Yet the screenwriter and author knew as well as anyone what it feels like to grow older and – as her title declares – some of the annoying and often absurd failings that the advancing years bring with them. Not being able to remember a damned thing is only one; she cheerfully lists almost a dozen people she met who she can’t remember anything about including Groucho Marx, Cary Grant, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Peter Ustinov.
Plus, if you love Nora’s sharp wit and wisdom as much as we do. Her book – ‘I feel Bad about my neck – is a wonderful collection of inspirational musings. Here are some of our favourites to get you started…..
- “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.”
- “If the shoe doesn’t fit in the shoe store, it’s never going to fit.”
- “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”
- “Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five you will be nostalgic for by the age of forty-five.”
2. Gratitude by Delphone de Vigan (fiction)
Gratitude is about love, loss and redemption. This story is for anyone who has watched helplessly as a loved one loses their independence and ability to communicate. Despite the sadness, this is ultimately a powerful and redemptive read, with lovely touches of everyday humour and humanity.
3. Somebody I used to Know by Wendy Mitchell (memoir)
Somebody I Used to Know is a beautiful memoir – both a heart-rending tribute to the woman Wendy Mitchell once was, and a brave affirmation of the woman she’s become.
Wendy Mitchell spent twenty years as a non-clinical team leader in the NHS before being diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in July 2014 at the age of fifty-eight. Shocked by the lack of awareness about the disease, both in the community and in hospitals, she vowed to spend her time raising awareness about dementia and encouraging others to see that there is life after a diagnosis.
Deeply moving and emotional, you will laugh and cry within seconds of each other.
4. Still Alice by Lisa Genova (fiction)
A moving and compelling story about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. At fifty, Alice is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a renowned expert in linguistics, with a successful husband and three grown children. When she begins to grow forgetful and disorientated, she dismisses it for as long as she can until a tragic diagnosis changes her life.
The story shares a very real and truthful account of how Alzheimer’s affects both the person with the disease and their family.
In 2014, the book was turned into a major Academy Award-winning film starring Julianne Moore.
5. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (illustration)
After the last 12 months, everyone needs to read this little book of hope. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse has been shared millions of times online but still worthy of a mention in our top 10. Charlie’s beautiful drawings and advice unite us all. It’s a great book to dip in and out of when you feel the need to breathe through some of life’s more difficult challenges.
6. Elegy for Iris by John Bayley (biography)
In 1996, one year after world-renowned writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch told an interviewer that she was struggling with severe writer’s block, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband of 42 years and fellow writer John Bayley, became her primary caretaker and chronicler of what happened next. With detailed notes about her decline, this story captures the ephemeral beauty of youth and the sobering reality of what it means to grow old. All wrapped up in the portrayal of one of the great literary romances of this century.
The 2001 film Iris was based on Bayley’s book and features a stellar cast including Jim Broadbent, Dame Judy Dench and Kate Winslet.
7. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (fiction)
This beautifully tragic mystery novel is told through the eyes of seventy-year old Maud. Slowly losing her memory to dementia, Maud is convinced that her friend Elizabeth is missing, because her notebook tells her so. No matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it. Healey offers a haunting insight into the life of someone living with dementia and how their world becomes unrecognisable. If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, this might help you to see the disease through their eyes.
Elizabeth is Missing was turned into a BBC drama in 2019 starring Glenda Jackson and you can catch it on BBC iPlayer.
8. The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro's (fiction)
This short story by Alice Munro is a wonderful portrayal of how Alzheimer’s affects the husband and wife relationship. Fiona and Grant have been married for a lifetime, but Grant is now less lover and more carer. The Bear Came Over the Mountain shines an important light on life in a dementia care home for those left at the door. Grant becomes an outsider as his wife embraces her new environment, along with the love of another man.
“The Bear Came over the Mountain,” has also been made into a critically acclaimed film Away from Her (2006), starring Julie Christie and Michael Murphy.
9. When the Time Comes by Dr Magnolia Cordana and Nurse Ebony Lewis (non fiction)
When the time comes is a collection of 22 personal experiences from relatives, informal caregivers and health professionals, curated by a doctor and nurse working in end-of-life care. The stories explore the social, cultural and individual influences on what is expected but not necessarily wanted and how individuals can take control of their end-of-life care. If you are on this journey, you might find some useful guidance and support.
10. The Book about Getting Older by Dr Lucy Pollark (non fiction)
A warm and compassionate book that gets to the very heart of older age. Using true stories and accessible explanations, it covers issues of declining health, quality of life and choices about the things that matter most. Dr Lucy Pollark guides the reader through essential conversations about getting older and offers answers to the questions that we can and can’t voice.
Sandi Toksvig describes this as “The most important book about the second half of your life you’ll ever read”. I couldn’t agree more, especially if you’re at the start of your 50+ journey!