Intelligent books with less text, more images for elderly mother
December 10, 2017 1:14 PM   Subscribe

My mother has moderate dementia, but doesn't realize it or understand it. One of the worst aspects is that, though she's been a life-long, voracious, high-level reader, she isn't really capable any more of reading much. She just doesn't have the cognition to follow text along from one paragraph to another.

She's still very lucid, on a very high level. In fact, if you met her you would not realize she has dementia as she masks it very well. She's very intelligent and highly educated. One of her main self-identities is as a reader, and that's being threatened.

I'd like to get her a book or two for Christmas that consists more of images than text, but one that is sophisticated and smart. She would feel very insulted if I gave her a "picture book." Nothing sentimental or overly "pretty." I'm thinking more photography than drawings or paintings. And maybe more non-fiction, documentary style. She has lots of interests including horticulture, Ireland, history (mostly of Ireland, Boston, Massachusetts, New England), politics (she's very lefty), travel, literature and writers, art and artists, and fashion.

posted by primate moon to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The phrase you seem to need is "coffee table book". There's tons of gift guides for them and I won't link to them all here (but instead will let others give personal recommendations), however here is one that might start you in the right direction.

- 50 Sublime Coffee Table Books for the True Sophisticate

(Also does she like poetry or short stories? I realize that they'd both have to be VERY short, but would that be a possibility as well?)
posted by elsietheeel at 1:23 PM on December 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

I would go to a local library to get an assortment of books, and she might enjoy audio books.
posted by theora55 at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2017

Yeah, maybe haiku would be good. Short, one distinct, ponderable image, maybe something with art alongside would be extra enjoyable.
posted by glitter at 1:26 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Humans of New York?
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:27 PM on December 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

Fashion photography books? They are their own category on Amazon.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:29 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

An excellent source for browsing would be the independent, discount book warehouse Daedalus Books. A real treasure trove. If there is such a thing as an online equivalent of the independent quirky bookstore, it's Daedalus Books.
posted by invisible ink at 1:39 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe something like National Geographic's "Rarely Seen" photograph collection. It ticks the travel box, and it's images of places she isn't expected to be able to recognize, which eases the burden of trying to pretend she's familiar with it. (Link goes to Amazon because the NatGeo site says it's no longer available there.)
posted by current resident at 1:44 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Graphic novels?
posted by brujita at 1:47 PM on December 10, 2017

These are all lovely suggestions.

She loves poetry and short stories, used to write them herself, and still keeps trying to but is unable. I think poetry works well for her still, as she still appreciates beautiful, impressionistic language. I have been providing her with poetry books which she has been very happy with. I think short stories are too much of a challenge.

I don't think audible books would be a good option: she would still need to be able to follow from one sentence/paragraph to another or follow a plot line or remember characters. Also, I think she would poo-poo them as being too high tech; she's not good at all with technology, and she also rather derides it: "what's wrong with actual books! People have been reading them for millennia!"

But I'll check out the other suggestions. Thanks!
posted by primate moon at 2:02 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:14 PM on December 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Seconding coffee table books. My father who has mild dementia is still reading, he spent a lot of time during a recent visit poring over a coffee table book with landscape photos of Great Britain and very short historical text with each photo. He also studies catalogs with some interest. (He might be bored.)
posted by puddledork at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

In a rather similar situation, I have had some success with books of old photographs of the local area - this sort of thing: Central Dublin: A History in Images.

You could also try books of old ads - something like this, though it isn't only ads: Good Housekeeping: The Best of the 1950s.

And you said she's interested in art and artists - so books about art with good illustrations?

You're a good person for doing this.
posted by paduasoy at 2:57 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Going in a slightly different direction - what about a collection of Bulwer-Lytton winners of the best worst first sentence of a novel
posted by poxandplague at 3:49 PM on December 10, 2017

She might enjoy Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 4:20 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hungry Planet and Material World are two books that might work well. They compare the lifestyles of people around the world using a photograph of a week’s worth of food in the former, and all of their possessions in the latter. There’s some explanatory text, but the images are the point.
posted by jeoc at 4:26 PM on December 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about Maira Kalman's books for adults? They full of gorgeous images but are for adults and they have sophisticated cred - she's been published by MoMA, etc.
posted by Geameade at 4:33 PM on December 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also this one just occurred to me: Reading Women. I know you said photographs rather than drawings or paintings, but as she has a strong identity as a reader this might work.
posted by paduasoy at 5:22 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is another arty one but there's a collection of Paul Durcan's poems based on pictures in the National Gallery of Ireland, with copies of the pictures: Crazy About Women. There's another one using pictures from the National Gallery in London, Give Me Your Hand.
posted by paduasoy at 5:28 PM on December 10, 2017

My father has dementia and it has been hard to watch this problem. I agree with all who have suggested coffee table books. I find that there are a lot of them at Goodwill and I can afford to buy many and sort of rotate them through. The Time Life books are great also.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:28 PM on December 10, 2017

Maybe John Lewis's The March graphic novels? Targeted to younger readers, so might be easier to follow, but substantively completely appropriate for adults of all cognitive abilities.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 5:57 PM on December 10, 2017

The Vivian Maier coffee table book was a huge hit and very talked-about by sophisticated culturistas, if she read any culture mags in 2010-2012ish, I'm sure she read about Maier and it's a gorgeous book.

I really like gorgeous coffee table books of a) artists I love and b) intriguing cultures/places. I've got one about the high Pamir valleys in Afghanistan, one about the stepwells of India ... if there's something or somewhere she's always been interested in, there's definitely a gorgeous photo book about it out there somewhere. Castles of Germany or hikes in China or pottery of sub-Saharan Africa or trees of Missouri or whatever.

If there is a nearby art or natural history museum she's always been fond of, most of them have coffee table books available, some have several -- being able to flip through and see paintings she's enjoyed visiting for many years might be comfortingly familiar as the dementia progresses.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:10 PM on December 10, 2017

There's an illustrated version of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, if you can track it down.
posted by kjs4 at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2017

I would strongly recommend The Circus, 1870s-1950s. It's a huge coffee table book that will keep her occupied for a while.

I had no prior interest in circuses but it provides a remarkable history of American circuses, mainly through original advertisements and photos with captions.
posted by ripley_ at 8:27 PM on December 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Shaun Tan has gorgeous picture books that aren't childish, if it's a narrative you are looking for. The lost thing has some words, The Arrival has none.
posted by freethefeet at 3:27 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

how about Advanced Style, great pictures, awesome fashion, celebrates older women
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:21 AM on December 11, 2017

Generation Wealth is a large, beautiful photography book about the global impact of wealth. There is supplemental text with the photos, but the pictures are so rich and it feels like a very smart, critical book. Here's an NPR article; here's the website; here's the Amazon.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:58 AM on December 11, 2017

I feel like anyone who loves fashion would enjoy Vogue: the Covers and never feel like it was a comment on their reading or cognition.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:04 PM on December 11, 2017

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