I recently read a book I think everyone should read. It is Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I heard good things about it, so when I saw it at a library sale, I scooped it up. When I first started reading it, I wasn’t that drawn in because the author is a neuroscientist by profession and first time novelist, but I forced myself to keep reading and I’m glad I did.
Still Alice is a story about an accomplished Harvard instructor who slowly loses her thoughts and memories to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is a vivid description of the disorientation, forgetfulness, and loss of self that occurs with dementia.
We all have moments of forgetfulness. For example, not long ago, I had a large, round, pinkish-yellow-skinned fruit in my hand and I couldn’t remember what it was called. I had to ask my husband, “What’s the English word for pamplemousse?” He looked at me in a funny way and said, “Grapefruit.”. This probably wouldn’t seem that strange if I was a native French speaker, but that’s not the case.
Because I sometimes have trouble recalling the word I want to use, this book scared me -not in a Stephen King way, but in an oh my God, this could happen to me way. If you have ever misplaced a word or if you are at all prone to hypochondria, you will find it discomforting to read about how Alice’s normal forgetfulness slides into something more insidious and unstoppable. As Julia Fox Garrison put it, “You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to read this book. It will inform you. It will scare you. It will change you.”
Alice dismissed her early symptoms of missing meetings, forgetting a person’s name, and losing her train of thought. She attributed it to fatigue, stress, depression, too much wine, and the normal aging process. It wasn’t until she went for a jog in her neighbourhood and couldn’t remember how to get home that she realized her cognitive problems were something more serious.
Alice’s husband reassured her that it was normal and maybe attributable to a hormone imbalance or nutritional deficiency. Because she fluctuated between being quite capable, and being absent-minded, it was easy to make excuses. It wasn’t until she completely forgot to go to the airport for a business trip that he reluctantly agreed something wasn’t quite right.
If you know someone who is struggling with memory problems, it can be difficult to not be annoyed. They may ask you the same question repeatedly, forget to do things they promised, or make critical mental errors in their work. People don’t like to forget, disappoint, or make mistakes. If it’s happening a lot, it may be something they can’t control.
Early identification is important when it comes to the treatment of Alzheimer’s. If you read this book, it will arm you with better awareness to know which symptoms are indications of a possible problem. It will also give you resources if you are a caregiver for someone who has dementia.
During one scene in the book,Alicepicked up an academic book and flipped through the pages. At that point in her dementia, words no longer had meaning to her, but during a moment of clarity she said, “I think I’ve read this book before.”
Her husband said, “You’ve done more than that. You wrote it. You and I wrote that book together.”
She thought about it for a while then said, “I remember. I remember you. I remember that I used to be very smart.”
That scene made me sad because as a writer myself, thoughts and words are important to me and losing them would be painful. For more information about memory loss and early onset dementia, please contact the Alzheimer Society in your area.
-D. R. Graham