Still Alice, by Lisa Genova

Still AliceStill Alice is at once heart-breaking, riveting, and terrifying. This book hit home for me. Hard. I’ve watched a great-grandfather, a grandmother, and now my mother-in-law slowly lose their minds to this currently incurable disease. As I read, I cried, and I cried, and I cried.

You need to read this book. Everyone needs to read this book. Alzheimer’s is becoming increasingly prevalent in this country, and if you don’t currently know someone with this disease, at some point you will. While it is a work of fiction, Genova – a PhD neuroscientist herself – has done a good amount of research to write it, and it contains accurate information that presents the current scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s. This deeply moving book will give you a small insight into how it feels to suffer from the assault of Alzheimer’s (as much as that can be known by someone who doesn’t have the disease) as well as see a perspective on how it impacts families.

When Dr. Alice Howland, a Harvard psychology professor, first starts forgetting little things, she chalks it up to menopause and keeps it to herself. But when she gets lost while out jogging in a place she’s lived for the last twenty-five years, she realizes it is likely something serious and seeks medical help. Her diagnosis at 50 years old, however, took her completely by surprise: Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

This book, telling everything from Alice’s perspective, follows Alice and her family for two years. During this time we see her first noticing symptoms, we watch as she receives her diagnosis, we hear how she lets others know that she’s afflicted with this degenerative disease, and then sit as her confidante as this dreadful, crippling disease rapidly takes Alice farther and father away from the life and people she loves. While Genova tells the story from Alice’s point of view, we also see how her disease progression and the devastating changes in her mind impact her husband (who responds with anger toward the diagnosis) and her three children (who respond with fear that this may be their futures).

Genova skillfully portrays Alice’s bewilderment as her immediate surroundings become more and more alien and frightening. We see Alice react with anger and confusion as the actions of her family members cease making sense to her. There were a couple of incidents where you simply had to laugh as well as a few especially moving passages, including a heartrending note that a healthier Alice left for a sicker Alice, that will elicit tears in just about anyone.

I found the plenary speech that Alice gave at the annual Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Conference incredibly important and inspiring: a clarion call that we should work hard to enhance and make easier the lives of those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Too often, people react to the diagnosis in others with fear, denial, or by shunning the patient.

In the end, we see her family members responding with tremendous love, but also moving on, as they of course have to do. You may or may not agree with their particular choices, but it does help to frame up some of the options and realities for families that may face this dilemma in the future.

Still Alice is well written, poignant, and hard to put down. It’s a powerful quick read that paints a beautifully human portrait of a devastating disease, and it should be on everyone’s reading list. I have the feeling that this hauntingly beautiful book will remain with me for a long time, with Alice frequenting my thoughts as I go about my day. Alice reminds us all to live fully in the present moment, as our yesterdays may begin to slip away and our tomorrows are uncertain. In the end, this book left me feeling thankful that my mind is lucid, and that I can know and appreciate the love and blessings in my life. It also helped me think about the future, and what I would want for my husband or me if we were faced with Alzheimer’s disease, which is a real and dreaded possibility. I hope that by reading Still Alice, it will increase our compassion toward those who suffer with and from this debilitating and tragic disease.

 

You can find a copy of Still Alice HERE.

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