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Elder Care

by Marion Deutsche Cohen
Temple University Press, 1996
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 24th 2002

Dirty Details

Marion Deutsche Cohen's husband Jeffrey Cohen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 36.  Cohen helped her husband as he became less able to do things for himself, but it was ten years later, in 1987, that she starts her record of her role as caretaker for her husband; it was then that he lost the ability to move himself from his wheelchair to the toilet.  Her life as wife and mother with four young children became much harder, and she sets out the unpleasant details of the days and especially the nights of that period.  She found that she could not get enough help from health professionals, social workers, or her extended family, and she makes the important argument that when one member of a family has a serious disability, the whole family becomes disabled. 

Cohen writes honestly about her experience, and does not hide her frequent anger and frustration.  She prides herself on never becoming violent with her husband, but she makes plain that she had many tantrums and meltdowns when she was having a very hard time was being awakened by her husband many times every night to meet his needs.  She never blames her husband for their misfortune, and it's clear that most of the time she did everything she could to help him.  Yet she makes no apology for putting herself at the center of this book; her aim is to make absolutely clear how well spouses caring for their partners are all too often expected to carry out their duties with no complaint and insufficient resources. 

Rates of degenerative diseases are increasing and we face a future in which a large proportion of the population suffers from Alzheimer's.  Furthermore, there are many other families with one or more members with serious mental illnesses, and in these cases also families are often expected to care for their loved ones.  Cohen's message is that we are ignoring the plight of the caregivers, as well as the plight of those people with chronic severe illnesses.  Dirty Details is a powerful meditation on the role of the well spouse in contemporary society, and I recommend it highly.


© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.