Poetry News

The Sad Effects of Alzheimer's on Poet Jack Agüeros

By Harriet Staff

The New York Times' City Room writes about New York poet and community advocate Jack Agüeros today. Former director of El Museo del Barrio for almost a decade starting in the mid-’70s, Agüeros now suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He has forgotten "that he is the author of four books and a handful of plays. He wrote sonnets and satiric psalms about immigration, poverty and social inequality. He also compiled and translated the complete poems of the renowned Puerto Rican writer Julia de Burgos."

“I don’t remember any of that,” Mr. Agüeros admitted to his daughter on a recent Sunday morning.

Mr. Agüeros was found to have Alzheimer’s disease six and a half years ago. After the diagnosis, according to his daughter, Natalia Agüeros, 31, he felt useless and frequently wondered if life was worth living. Later, he was medicated for depression.

He kept an irregular diary — “the Alzheimer’s chronicle” — but over time lost the ability to read and write.

“I think the heartbreak is that when he does sense the loss, he senses it strongly and he expresses it,” his son Marcel, 38, said. “It’s hard for us because we are also witnesses to the loss in a way he isn’t.”

As the disease progresses, so do the elder Agüeros’s moments of confusion.

But unlike many Alzheimer’s patients, Mr. Agüeros has so far been spared the bouts of aggression or nonresponsiveness that can accompany the disease. He sings constantly. He cracks jokes. He chats with enthusiasm with whoever is around. His awareness seems gently to come and go, like a car radio tuning in and out of a faraway station.

“What is Alzheimer’s?” he asked his daughter recently in a lucid conversation about how he missed writing. “This is a disease of the people?”

The piece also includes a video about Agüeros, and can be read in full here.

Originally Published: June 30th, 2011