Alumna’s Book on Alzheimer’s Offers Insight, Hope

‘I Can Still Laugh’ Captures Inspirational Stories of Patients Battling Dementia

July 14, 2008

Audette Rackley
Audette Rackley
Many Americans are all too familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating brain disorder that affects 5.2 million seniors in the United States alone.   As the baby boomer generation ages, this number is expected to swell to 10 million. 

Lost behind these staggering statistics are the emotional stories of each individual struggling with the disease. 

In her role as Head of Special Programs at the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, alumna Audette Rackley witnesses these personal battles on a daily basis. 

Rackley’s book, “I Can Still Laugh” shares the stories of 13 people who were diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65, and how they worked to look past their deficiencies to maintain an active lifestyle.  Each story offers a view of life before diagnosis, challenges during diagnosis, family and caregiver perspectives and a lesson that emerged from the experience.

For readers whose lives aren’t directly touched by Alzheimer’s disease, Rackley’s book sheds light on the reality of the disorder.  For individuals and families affected by the disease, the stories impart a message of hope and optimism.

Each person featured in the book was a member of the Stark Club at the Center for BrainHealth.  The club was first conceived by a few men who were still young and working when they were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  They met twice a month, and friends of one member, Temple Stark, funded the group.

Rackley is quick to point out that the Stark Club was not created as a support group in the traditional sense.  It is an intervention program based on research and understanding of the effects of the brain and how to optimize functioning. 

Her job is to engage the members.  They discuss current events and their passions and interests.  She also helps them focus on the abilities they still have through a variety of activities, such as hobbies and volunteerism. The discussion and activities are forms of cognitive-communication stimulation, which is intended to slow declines in patients’ conversational and functional abilities.

It was during a group discussion that the idea for the book was born.  One Stark Club member, Bill Tuel, suggested that the group leave a legacy by publishing a book.  Rackley partnered with Sophia Dembling, also a former UT Dallas student who shared a passion for the Center for BrainHealth, to begin capturing their stories.

“The book was a way they could share their strength with others who suffered from brain disorders and the families and friends who care for them.  The book is a celebration of life,” said Rackley.

Rackley first developed a passion for aiding those with dementia while earning a Master of Science in communication disorders at the UT Dallas School for Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  During this time she began a practicum with Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and executive director of the Center for BrainHealth.  “Dr. Chapman is truly visionary.  She strives to help people for whom there is not much being done,” said Rackley.

The Center for BrainHealth is committed to studying the aging brain.  Researchers hope to find strategic, preventative approaches to stave off cognitive declines.  In the meantime clinicians, like Rackley, help people see the wealth of possibilities for fulfilling lives in the midst of disease.  She encourages patients and their families to take a proactive approach and always hold on to hope.

“The book is truly about living with challenges.  So often hope is not communicated.  People lose sight of the abilities they have.  It is important not to pull back, but to modify life, be socially engaged, and establish a support network quickly,” she said.

Intervention groups, like the Stark Club, continue to meet at the Center for BrainHealth.  Rackley invites people, under the age of 65, who have recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, to contact her if they are interested in joining a group.


Media contact: Audrey Glickert, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4320, audrey.glickert@utdallas.edu
Stark Club contact: Audette Rackley, UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, (972) 883-3405, arackley@utdallas.edu

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Audette Rackley's Book
I Can Still Laugh is available at Blurb.com.

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