"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

12 May 2015

2015 Book Review #14: Still Alice

This book was recommended to me by my sister Joy.

It deals with early onset Alzheimer's disease.

I was worried that it would be a bit depressing.  Far from it!

But...it IS heartbreakingly real.....truly gripping, emotional, and a real page-turner.  I stayed up late over the weekend to read this book.


The main character, Alice Howland, holds a PhD and has been a professor of cognitive psychology at Harvard University for about 25 years.  She is married to John, who is also a Harvard professor.  They are both very distinguished and successful in their respective fields (she in linguistics and he in science) and they live in Cambridge, close to Harvard Square.  Alice and John have 3 adult children.  Anna is married to Charles and is a lawyer.  John is single and a doctor and Lydia, the youngest, is still single and taking acting classes and working in Los Angeles, CA.

It is 2003, and a new semester is upon Alice.  However, she is becoming more and more disoriented and forgetful.  After a series of doctor visits to her regular doctor as well as to a neurologist, she is diagnosed, at age 49, with early onset Alzheimer's Disease.  It is very rare for people under age 65 to get this diagnoses but it does happen in the USA.

The story centers around the progression of the disease and the entire story takes place in just 2 years.  In that 2 years, we learn of how rapidly this disease progresses.  We learn that there is no cure.  We learn that certain drugs can slow down the disease but it cannot be healed.  We learn what it is.  And what it isn't.

We read of Alice's feelings....and those of her families.  We learn some of the science behind the illness.  We learn that this can be hereditary and that genetic testing can show who in the family will inherit this diagnoses.

We learn that Alice will struggle with day-to-day living skills, with her career, with decisions regarding her family.  We read a list of questions she asks herself every morning and what she is going to do on the day she can't answer those questions.  We learn about her "butterfly" folder on her laptop.  

We read that she must rethink her position in the world...from that of brilliant linguistics professor, author, and lecturer, to that of a woman who now must depend on others to help her walk through the rest of her life.


This book taught me a lot of what my own father is going through although he hasn't had an official diagnoses yet of actual Alzheimer's disease. 

This book is very informative.  It's a little scary.  And it changed me.....it changed the way I view people with dementia/memory loss.  I learned all kinds of ways to actually talk and listen to the person.  I felt so frustrated for Alice as I walked through her journey via these pages of words. The ending is very poignant and didn't end the way I thought it was going to which was a surprise.

One of my favorite sections of the book is when she is visiting a nursing home to see what it might be like to eventually live there.  She wears her mother's butterfly necklace (her mother and younger sister died in a tragic car accident when her father drove drunk back when Alice was a freshman in college).  Her mother found her crying one day at about age 6 or 7 because Alice had just learned that butterflies only live a few days.  Here is the quote which has significant meaning to Alice's life as she begins to face the facts of her early onset Alzheimer's:

" Her mother comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies, that just because their lives were short didn't mean they were tragic.  Watching them flying the warm sun among the daisies in the garden, her mother had said to her, "See, they have a beautiful life."  Alice liked remembering that." 
(pg. 111, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, c. 2007)
I also thought it was interesting that the author has  a PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard University.  She also is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.  She put a lot of research into this book and mentions several trials of meds as well as genetic testing and markers that doctors look for when making diagnoses of Alzheimer's.  

This is a very moving story.  I  think everyone should read this book to gain a good understanding of this progressive and terminal disease.  This story will make you laugh, cry, and cheer.  It will leave you changed.

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 17 and older.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 10.


Susanne said...

This is the story for which Julianne Moore won best actress isn't it? It sounds very good. I'll have to look for it at the library!

Deb said...

I have seen then book in the library. Thanks for your review. I think I will put it on my "to read" list. Have a great weekend.