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Palgrave Macmillan

The Poetics and Politics of Alzheimer’s Disease Life-Writing

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  • © 2017

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  • Examines a variety of different forms of life-writing
  • Examines writing from across the world and in different cultural settings
  • One of the first studies of life-writing from those afflicted by Alzheimer's, the most common neurodegenerative disorder among the elderly

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About this book

This book is open access under a CC BY 4.0 license. 

This is the first book-length exploration of the thoughts and experiences expressed by dementia patients in published narratives over the last thirty years. It contrasts third-person caregiver and first-person patient accounts from different languages and a range of media, focusing on the poetical and political questions these narratives raise: what images do narrators appropriate; what narrative plot do they adapt; and how do they draw on established strategies of life-writing. It also analyses how these accounts engage with the culturally dominant Alzheimer’s narrative that centres on dependence and vulnerability, and addresses how they relate to discourses of gender and aging. Linking literary scholarship to the medico-scientific understanding of dementia as a neurodegenerative condition, this book argues that, first, patients’ articulations must be made central to dementia discourse;and second, committed alleviation of caregiver burden through social support systems and altered healthcare policies requires significantly altered views about aging, dementia, and Alzheimer’s patients.

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Table of contents (6 chapters)


“Martina Zimmermann’s The Poetics and Politics of Alzheimer’s Disease Life-Writing is not only essential reading for anyone who has an interest in patient narratives or medical humanities broadly but is also helpful in changing the general cultural discourse that surrounds the ways in which Alzheimer’s patients are discussed. … the first study of many that seek to change the public discourse that surrounds one of our most marginalized populations.” (Kathryn Lafferty Danner, Journal of Medical Humanities, Vol. 42, 2021)

“Zimmermann’s study is the only monograph that critically examines Alzheimer’s narratives and as such, her book is an important contribution to the discourse on literary representations of the Alzheimer’s disease experience. … her work will benefit those medical humanities’ scholars who are interested in resisting the silencing tendencies of the medico-scientific discourse about dementia. … Zimmermann’s monograph continues the tradition ofhelping those who are students of the medical humanities cultivate more morally capacious ways of being in the world.” (Julie Kutac, Centre for Medical Humanities Durham University,, January, 2018)

“This very fine study reflects capacious knowledge and insight into a condition that, as the author suggests, is one of the most complex and fraught for patients and caregivers, and one of the most misunderstood by policy makers. The Poetics and Politics of Alzheimer’s Disease Life-Writing offers an important intervention at a critical time, and deserves to meet with a wide readership.” (Jane F. Thrailkill, University of North Carolina, USA)

“Despite the recent spate of books about Alzheimer’s disease by doctors, patients, and caregivers, no other writer to my knowledge has attempted to do what the humanities scholar and research scientist Martina Zimmermann has accomplished here: an analysis of dementia narratives attuned to the medical, political, sociological, ethical, and poetic aspects—that is, the full human experience--of living with inexorable, unforgiving cognitive decline.” (Eileen Gillooly, Columbia University, USA)

Authors and Affiliations

  • King’s College, London, London, United Kingdom

    Martina Zimmermann

About the author

Martina Zimmermann has fifteen years of research and teaching experience in Pharmacology, and is Privatdozentin at Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. Her scholarly interests have increasingly shifted towards the Health Humanities: with an MA in Literature and Medicine, she currently researches for a book on dementia in Science, Medicine and Literature of the 20th Century at King’s College London, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Her personal website is

Bibliographic Information

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