by Bianca Brijnath
Berghahn Books, 2014, 240 pages
Bianca Brijnath’s book, Unforgotten: Love and the Culture of Dementia Care in India, offers a long-awaited, fresh insight into the lives and experiences of people with dementia and their caregivers in middle-class, middle-aged, educated Delhi-based families. Using the lens of critical and sensory anthropology, this ethnography is an invaluable contribution to previous monographs on aging in India, for which Lawrence Cohen (1998) and Sarah Lamb (2000, 2009) are perhaps best known. Brijnath notes that the complexity of dementia is increased by globalization, migration, consumerism, urbanization and the changing role of women. In just over a decade, the understanding of dementia in India has shifted towards a phenomenon that is “rooted in technology, class and age, rather than the perils of modernity and ‘bad’ families” (Brijnath 2014, 8). Modernity, often understood as the adoption of supposedly ‘Western lifestyles’, is no longer seen as just a danger to the family hierarchies and the venerated role of the elderly in the society, but it can also provide an alternate framework of explaining the relationship between age and dementia. For example, while dementia was described in terms of senility and madness in the past (Cohen 1998), Brijnath’s informants talked about dementia using the metaphor of computer software gone awry, and they were well aware of biomedical definitions and technologies used in care for people with dementia.
A chapter on methods sincerely describes the uneasiness of the researcher who tries to position herself in the field, while trying to accept that she can give little back to her informants as she is not a medical doctor herself.