Scottish broadcaster and author, Sally Magnusson, cared with her two sisters for her mother, Mamie, during her long struggle with dementia, until her death in 2012.

This moving and honest account of losing a loved one day by day to an insidious disease is both deeply personal and a challenging call to arms.

Read an extract from the book on the Guardian website

~ ~ ~

This book began as an attempt to hold on to my witty, storytelling mother with the one thing I had to hand. Words. Then, as the enormity of the social crisis my family was part of began to dawn, I wrote with the thought that other forgotten lives might be nudged into the light along with hers.

Dementia is one of the greatest social, medical, economic, scientific, philosophical and moral challenges of our times.

I am a reporter.

It became the biggest story of my life.

Sally Magnusson

 ~ ~ ~

Mamie and Magnus Magnusson

Mamie and Magnus Magnusson

Regarded as one of the finest journalists of her generation, Mamie Baird Magnusson’s whole life was a celebration of words – words that she fought to retain in the grip of a disease which is fast becoming the scourge of the 21st century. Married to writer and broadcaster Magnus Magnusson, they had five children of whom Sally is the eldest.

Mamie, baby Sally, Magnus Magnusson (WHERE MEMORIES GO, Two Roads Books)

Mamie, baby Sally, Magnus Magnusson

As well as chronicling the anguish, the frustrations and the unexpected laughs and joys that she and her sisters experienced while accompanying their beloved mother on the long dementia road, Sally Magnusson seeks understanding from a range of experts and asks penetrating questions about how we treat older people and what it means to be human.



An extraordinary memoir and manifesto in one searingly beautiful narrative.

~ ~ ~


‘This book is the constant, tenuous but vital reconnection between a child and its mother… A fine book’ A.A. Gill, The Sunday Times

‘This is a book written with a rare combination of analytical inquiry and intimate, deeply moving memoir’ Scotsman

‘Powerful’ Guardian

‘wonderful… It should be compulsory reading for every doctor and nurse’ Telegraph

‘Moving’ The Times

‘Sally Magnusson set out to write a book about dementia and in this she has succeeded wonderfully. But Where Memories Go is also – perhaps primarily – a book about love’ Mail on Sunday

‘This is an extraordinarily moving memoir which is, at the same time, a fascinating exploration of a condition that touches virtually every family. This book will help our understanding’ Alexander McCall Smith

‘I was bowled over by this book. Intensely moving and inspiring, it is as much about living, laughing and family life as it is about loss and death’ Joanna Lumley

‘A brave story of a family’s love for their mother, told with affection, steadfastness and humour – and a cool-headed battle-cry to do more and better’ Sarah Brown, global campaigner for Health and Education

~ ~ ~


‘So much of what I read in this amazing account of dementia reminded me of my own mum’s story as she too battled the disease… Your
story has been therapy for our story’ Nicky

Where Memories Go should be compulsory reading for all who work with people with dementia, be they doctors, social workers or care workers. It could revolutionise care’ Richard

‘I am a care worker and continually see the struggles that families go through to ensure that their loved one is safe and happy and cared for. I believe everyone in the healthcare sector needs to read this moving and emotive story… I will be encouraging others to read your tale. Thank you’ Emma

‘Having held the hands of my husband and dad for a little part of their journeys through this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart – first of all for having the courage to tell your experiences and second for speaking out to highlight how we as a nation and society need to address the issue’ Christine

‘I think this book explains dementia on such a human levelthat anyone can understand it and relate to it. I am about to start a new job as a Dementia and Delirium Clinical Nurse Specialist and will definitely be recommending Where Memories GoAnne


Sally Magnusson (c) Derek PrescottSally Magnusson is the oldest of the five children of journalists Magnus Magnusson and Mamie Baird.

A journalist and broadcaster herself, she has been a BBC news and current affairs presenter for many years. She has written 10 books, most famously the Sunday Times bestseller, Where Memories Go. Her first novel, The Sealwoman’s Gift, published in 2018 to critical acclaim.

Half-Icelandic, half-Scottish, Sally has inherited a rich storytelling tradition, and is working on her second novel.

Find out more about Sally’s charity Playlist For Life.

34 responses to “WHERE MEMORIES GO – Sally Magnusson”

  1. EVA HALLER says:


  2. JULIA Lowndes says:

    I do not make a habit of writing or emailing to total strangers, however I felt compelled to write after reading and extract of your book “Where memories go: Why dementia,changes everything”.

    I am sure you have had many people talk to you about dementia, and like you have experienced my mother currently has vascular dementia, and has for over a decade. Although it was only formerly diagnosed in the summer of 2010.

    The extract brought a tear to my eye, mainly because although dementia affects people in different ways, there are still some similarities. I guess the hardest as you describe is trying to come to terms with the fact that your Mum does not recognise you……the first time was hard and the the last time, this Tuesday was hard…but now we make a joke of it, because what else can you do, crying sometimes yes, but mainly just trying to carry on.

    Many thanks for sharing what really must have been a tough thing to do, and the bloody disease does affect anyone, and touches everyone. I like you, worry that I will follow suit later on down the road or maybe not, but there is a limit to how many crossword puzzles you can do!

    Well done, and I look forward to reading the whole book

    Very best wishes


    Sent from my iPad

    • Sally Magnusson says:

      Thank you, Julia. This book was a tough one to write, but what kept me going was the hope that it would reach others going through their own private hell with this disease.

      I hope you enjoy the book. You’ll find more about the laughs and joys we experienced along the way, as well as the sadnesses. I also describe in more detail the wonderful effect of music and old familiar songs on my mother. Research shows it can help bring anyone with dementia back to themselves for a time. Do have a look at the website of the charity I started after my mum’s death ( Do keep in touch.

  3. Sheila Inshaw says:

    Well done Sally!I have just read the extract and you have truly captured this dreadful disease. I see this every day at work and also saw it with my Dad. It can destroy so many families but also sometimes help families to communicate with each other. Memories need to be shared with our families….while we still can! All the best Sheila

  4. Sally Magnusson says:

    Thank you, Sheila, for the wonderful work you are doing at Craigielea care home to reconnect your residents with their loved ones and their memories through music. You have been a great pioneer of Playlist for Life.

  5. Sue Ireland says:

    Dear sally, I have read your article in Woman and Home and thought you might like to see a poem I have copied from my local paper, The Sunday Post. I tried to send it to you but my message kept bouncing back. I’m afraid I don’t do twitter or Facebook. It starts, “Do not ask me to remember” If I can find a contact email I will send it to you. Yours, Sue.

  6. Ailsa Hamilton says:

    Dear Sally! Thank-you so much for sharing so intimately and so very lovingly about your Mum. I wept every morning as I drank in your readings and really couldn’t get enough.You reminded me that I, too, had the most wonderful parents. I was so moved by the love of you and your family, this love that wants to give and give to the end. You saw her on her way and took away so much of her fear. Ailsa

  7. Pamela Gordon says:

    Yesterday evening I heard you reading from “Where memories go” on the radio, it was so powerful and so moving. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
    Last summer I was in the audience at the Borders Book Festival when you interviewed Phylida Law about her book and really enjoyed that too.

    • Fede says:

      Dear Pamela, thank you for your message. Make sure you check Sally’s schedule of events on her facebook page: It’s constantly updated with the latest news.
      All best, the Two Roads team

  8. Lindsey Shirley says:

    Dear Sally, I have seen an advert about the talk you are giving on your book at Pitlochry Festival Theatre in February. Are you planning to give talks at other venues? I live in Gourock, west of Glasgow and would like to hear your talk. I have been listening to the Radio 4 extracts and found it very moving and intend to read it for myself once I get my copy. My mother had dementia for the last 8 years of her life. There were signs before that but it accelerated rapidly following my sister’s death from breast cancer in 1997. I am sure that your book will help to bring positive developments in the way we all deal with dementia in our society. Thank you for writing this book. Kind regards, Lindsey

    • Fede says:

      Dear Lindsey, thank you for your message. The best way to find out about Sally’s schedule of events is check her facebook page: It’s constantly updated with the latest events. Quite a few in Scotland!
      All best, the Two Roads team

  9. David Irvine says:

    Hi Sally!

    I’m gutted that I missed out on tickets for your evening at The Avenue in Newton Mearns :-(! Please can you come to Paisley or Glasgow!!

  10. Anne-Marie Griffiths says:

    Dear Sally My Mother is suffering at the moment, from this awful disease. It has devastated our family, like many others. Unfortunately, where we live there is no support etc. So, thank you for writing your book to help & inspire others.

    • Lisa says:

      And thank you for being in touch – we’re sorry to hear of your situation and wish you all the best with your situation, we’re glad that Sally’s book has provided some comfort. TR

  11. angela says:

    After reading the snippets about your book i am looking forward to reading it. My dad has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We are at the beginning of of what seems to be a very long road with no right or wrong way to follow. I am gathering all the information i can.

  12. Annie says:

    Dear Sally

    I finished reading your book two weeks ago and felt I had to write to you.

    My brother and I know that our mother, although undiagnosed, has been suffering from some form of dementia, probably, the vascular type.

    We have a different situation to yours: our mother lives in Buenos Aires, until two years ago, on her own. My brother lives in Lima and I live in Derbyshire, UK. Two years ago, when she travelled to the UK to attend my second son’s wedding, I came to the conclusion that she would not be able to live on her own any longer.

    However, what were we going to do? We had already spent a couple of months maximum, at different times, for a couple of years. But this had to become an extended care schedule. So far, we have been taking it in turns to travel to BA or get her to travel to either to Lima or to Derbyshire.

    She has other problems, raised blood pressure, high cholesterol and tablet-controlled diabetes. She has been twice in hospital in the last year, once with thrombosis and the second with an internal haemorrage.

    What we find more difficult is her reaction to our efforts to keep her away from care homes, which would not be our preferred choice unless the situation becomes untenable. However, I admire your loving attitude, which I cannot display.

    I, and probably my brother too, are exhausted with having to think for her all the time, cleaning after she has “accidents”, being on full-time watch. She once asked who I was and I became scared because that sounds terrible but it has not been repeated. It is her reaction against us, which must be similar to Mamie’s reaction towards her twin sister, that I find hurting.

    Excellent insight into an illness that was widely swept aside but as we all know now, it can happen to anybody and will affect mainly to those who try to care.


  13. Nicky Ashdown says:

    So much of what I read in this amazing account of Dementia reminded me of my own mums story as she too battled the disease. My mum was a little welsh lady and poetry and music would just flow from her. People never understood why she was unable to recall really important events in her life yet could finish off a whole poem or a song if I said just one line. And those cheeky little one liners that were the core of her personality never left her either and would often provide a doorway in. Thank you for giving me an understanding of how this all works and for also giving me the reassurance that what I did to enhance mums life right up to the end was indeed the right thing to do. Your story has been therapy for our story. I just want to find out more now.
    Thank you.

  14. Alison Phelps says:

    Thanks Sally for a brilliant, encouraging and wonderfully readable book! Gratitude is due too to your wider family for sharing you as well as your parents in public. Like you, I am deeply grateful for three siblings to share the concerns and care of our mother with dementia at home, and we have been able to use a national agency to provide consistent live-in care, largely satisfactory. The lovely deaths of your parents resonated with the passing of our dad at home last July, to the St Matthew Passion. The only music that seems to reach Mum at present is a traditional hymn: songs of praise is (often) perfect, and weekly we mourn the loss of Sunday half hour on Radio 2. How else can we eat our soup?
    I guess in dementia we continue our deepest selves. Music meant little to my busy busy ‘got to get on/don’t waste time’ kind of mum, especially with a deaf son, but I pray your charity will help many. Many thanks again for putting your experience into print, and finding it so universal.

  15. Violet Rarity says:

    Sally, just finished reading your book and you have inspired me to be stronger in dealing with this awful disease. My father has been living with dementia for the last 5 years and it’s painful to see him deteriorate. My mother who has been his carer has now been diagnosed with it. My sister and I are at our wits end as to how all this is going to pan out. My mother is a very private person and is objecting to any intervention by carers.
    I am amazed how you found the time to care so lovingly for you mum while holding down an important job as well as caring for the rest of your family. I feel with my family commitments I’m in danger of spreading myself too thin. Reading your book has helped me deal with our road ahead and the knowledge that my sister and I are not alone losing our loved ones to dementia.

    • Sally Magnusson says:

      One of my main reasons for writing this book was so that people like me, and like you, would not feel so alone. I’m so pleased if it’s helped you in that way, Violet.

  16. Gavin Brelstaff says:

    I just listen through your BBC Radio4 Book of The Week reading – and I rally admire how you presented your experiences. As my mother-in-law died a year or so ago, (unable to speak toward the end – she was a poet in a variant of Catalan) this poem came arose within me, and I like to share it with you.

    [Lost strophes]

    Our fingers enfold
    smooth between old
    warm between cold –
    I know now
    no pen
    shall yours
    again hold.
    Lost your last strophes
    not here to be told.

    Gavin Brelstaff Alghero, 6 Feb. 2012

  17. Richard Wood says:

    Having previously managed care homes for Lincolnshire County Council, some of which provided specialist care for people with dementia, I would suggest that “Where memories go” should be compulsory reading for all who work with people with dementia be they Doctors; Social Workers or care workers.It could revolutionise care.

    • Sally Magnusson says:

      This is exactly what I’ve been saying in speeches around the country. I would like everyone who, at whatever level, makes decisions that affect the lives of people with dementia and their families to understand what it’s like – really like – on the inside. If you can help to get it to the people who need to know, Richard, I’d be grateful.

  18. Wendy Sedgwick says:

    Dear Sally

    I wanted to write and thank you for sharing so generously with all your family such a wonderful story. It was inspiring to read and brilliant at putting across the love and tactile affection you all had for one another. Particularly the desperate need to reassure your own children that night that whatever happens, you do love them absolutely. I have a much clearer picture now of the whole devilish condition and feel it should almost be required reading for our generation. I’ll come and listen to you at Nairn, but in the meantime WELL DONE and thank you.

  19. Catherine March says:

    It probably sounds trite to thank you for sharing your informative and beautifully written account of your mother’s dementia. My mother died a month ago, at 95, and the parallels were uncanny. I too reached for a pen and scrap of paper to jot down remarks and incoherent ramblings, and drew cartoons with appropriate speech bubbles!
    Words were also the essence of my mother – puns, limericks, word derivations. She was able to quote chunks of poetry and Shakespeare and make the odd succinct comment almost to the end.
    The crazy unexpected hilarity mixed with depths and randomness, and the despair of it all being something new to fathom was all too familiar.
    And after hearing the extracts on R4 I reached for King Lear to re-read…..
    But the conundrum remains on how to provide suitable care in this expanding field. I am left wondering whether it is one of those circumstances you need to go through in order to truly understand the problems.

  20. Emma says:

    Thank you for highlighting yours and your families experience with a loved one with dementia. I am a care worker & continually see the struggles that families go through to ensure that their loved one is safe and happy and cared for.
    I believe everyone in the healthcare sector needs to read this moving and emotive story. The love and compassion you have shown over the years pours out from the page & into me.
    I will be encouraging others to read your tale.
    Thank you.

  21. Frances Aldridge says:

    Just another big “Thank You” Sally for your excellent book. I entirely agree with Richard Wood. I will be sharing your book with friends and family, especially as we none of us know when we will need to be cared for. Please keep up your campaigning Sally.

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