Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Still Alice: a portrait of Alzheimer's

Still Alice by Liza Genova is the story of one woman’s slow descent into the harsh realities of early onset Alzheimer’s which occurs before the age of 65. Her struggle to retain who she is. Her husband, John, and their three children, Anna, Tom and Lydia struggle understand what is going on. The book was made into a movie starring Julianne Moore as Alice which she won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

“My yesterdays are disappearing and my tomorrows are uncertain.”

The story begins in September 2003, Alice Howland is a psychology professor at Harvard specializing in the mechanisms of language. She’s leaving for a conference in San Francisco before leaving for Los Angeles to visit her daughter, Lydia. She notices that she easily loses her train of thought and she is forgetting certain words. She worries it may be menopause, she makes an appointment with her doctor. After Alice’s 50th birthday, her doctor reveals that her test results are all normal but Alice knows that something isn’t normal. She wants to see a neurologist. After a battery of test, her neurologist diagnoses her with early onset Alzheimer’s. She is given the hard news that there is no cure just treatments to slow the progression. Her husband, at first, is in denial until he sees her memory lapse firsthand. Then he aggressively seeks to treat her. Despite her treatments, Alice is slowly getting worst. As the family sees the reality that has overcome their wife and mother, they struggle and argue about how to proceed.

“There is no weapon that could slay it [Alzheimer’s].
Taking Aricept and Namenda felt like aiming a couple of leaky squirt guns
in the face of a blazing fire.”

I really enjoyed this book. It was emotional for me to read as I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s in 2005 and my uncle to early onset Alzheimer’s this year. As I read Alice’s behaviors, I was reminded of the weird things my grandmother used to do. We would find items in the oddest places. She would ask for people who had been deceased for many years. The violent outbursts as my grandmother struggled to remember and understand. I appreciated that the author gave the science behind Alzheimer’s without being too overbearing with the scientific lingo. I learned a great deal about early onset Alzheimer’s. I highly recommend Still Alice. It is a great book which looks into the mind of this horrible disease. For those who have lost or has a loved with Alzheimer’s, it will be a heartbreaking look back. For those who haven’t witnessed Alzheimer’s firsthand, it is an excellent example of this debilitating disease.