Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Different Look at Alzheimer's: A Book Review

A review of Still Alice, by Lisa Genova (Pocket Books, 2009).

This is not a book to read for amusement or quick entertainment. It iis a short and provocative read for anyone seriously wondering about the ravages of Alzheimer's
Disease, or anyone faced by the disease among family or friends. It's a disease that nobody wants to get, but one that seems to be getting more prevalent.

In her first novel, Lisa Genova, neurologist and Alzheimer's advocate, creates an early-onset victim of the disease, Harvard professor Alice Howland, who gradually sees her world crumbling. A world-renowned experst in linguistics with a successful professor husband and three grown children, Alice lives a very active life of research, teaching, and speaking at conferences all over the world. She is also a runner.

Imagine the horror when this active woman can't find her way home from a run in her neighborhood, forgets the ingredients in a favorite recipe, and generally finds her life crumbling around her. She seeks extensive medical opinions and has many tests, but despite her husband's doubts, the outcome is the dreaded one: at age 50, she has early stage Alzheimer's.

Through extensive research, Genova has managed to create a seemingly realistic picture of what it must be like for an intelligent, successful person to notice her mind and memory crumbling. Alice tries various drugs, but to little avail. She worries about having to give up her teaching job, and eventually, she must.

Her family relationships change considerably, leading to greater understanding and patience, although her husband feels compeled to take a new job in New York. Early on, she starts a support group for others also suffering the disease, so she still feels she's making a difference in the world. One of her final public acts is giving a speech before the Dementia Care Conference.

With the help of her son, her daughters, and a devoted care giver, Alice survives in her own way.
This book probably takes us as directly as possible into the life of an Alzheimer's patient through the eyes of Lisa Genova, who has done her research carefully. It is a fascinating, if frightening, book.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Short Lesson on Chicago Politics

There I was, sitting at the Washington Street information desk at the Chicago Cultural Center, reading a book on a day when the cold weather deterred tourists from coming in, when I noticed an assembly of large men entering the lobby. They were obviously waiting for someone; the guard informed me that the Mayor was coming soon. He was appearing at a meeting in the building.

This information aroused my interest only slightly; I've seen Mayor Richard M. Daley before. I'm not very interested in politics, and he's no hero of mine. I do have a picture of him handing me an award for teaching some years ago.

As time passed and I read on, the retainers began to get slightly anxious. Then, finally, the Mayor entered in his characteristic hat; he handed the hat and his overcoat coat to one of his assistants and proceeded toward the elevator. Imagine my surprise when he looked my way, came to my desk, and shook my hand, as a camera flashed. I am a political nobody, just an elderly Cultural Center volunteer, and he's not even running for office this year. An aide handed me a card for claiming a copy of my picture with the Mayor, but I'll probably decline.

This experience reminded me how politicians work. They seem to be on the lookout for hands to shake, even when they are being ignored. I remembered that when I lived in my Old Town condo, at least three other residents of the small building also displayed pictures of themselves with the Mayor. He surely gets around. I guess that's one of the secrets of getting elected: greet everybody like a long-lost friend and shake many hands. It seems to work for Mayor Daley. Will I vote for him next time around? Probably not, but I can see why he's popular.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trying My Best

This is a NuStep cross trainer exercise machine. It is one of two machines from the Clare fitness room that I can use, but unfortunately inertia often sets in and I stay away. I am, at best, a reluctant exerciser.

I'm sold on the value of staying active, but I seem to be the ultimate recliner potato. I am lazy and tend to be inactive. Anyway, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (barring special appointments and responsibilities) I appear for exercise classes on the 19th floor. The leader, Jan, is wonderful: always complimentary and encouraging no matter what one does or does not manage to do. "Modify this exercise" is her frequent instruction, usually directed to me. Why?

Some parts of the exercise routine are simply impossible for me. For one thing, I cannot raise my right arm; it's been that way since an accident in 1942, followed by another in 1952. By then, my arm was misshapen and nearly useless, although I continue to write with my right hand. Due to arthritis in my shoulders, my left arm can't be raised very far, either. Despite various bouts with physical therapy, arm exercises are a lost cause.

My legs don't work especially well, either. Two knee replacements helped, but I still lack strength and a sense of balance. I'm the one who can't get out of a chair without using my hands, and the one who clings to the back of the chair during most standing exercises.

Fortunately, my fellow senior exercisers are not toned athletes, but some of them, including some of those considerably older than I, do very well indeed. My many unathletic years seem to have caught up with me. I'm overweight and clumsy, even after more than a year of these exercise classes. It bothered me when our oldest resident, age 101, connected to her oxygen tank, did some of the excercises better than I did.

Many times, I've thought about discontinuing my participation in the exercise program. Still, I keep going. This is one area in which I cannot be a perfectionist, but I'm conquering my embarrassment and trying my best. Some movement is undoubtedly better than none! I'm reminded again, though, that old age is not for the weak. And I'll try to visit my favorite exercise machine regularly soon!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

More on Senior Travel

I've noted a lot of concern about the new air safety rules. On my recent trip to Tulsa (or actually on the way home) I was exposed to a full-body scan for the first time. Actually, it was easier for me than the usual pat-down brought on by my two knee replacements always setting off the alarm.

Privacy? Perhaps younger people feel differently, but I just don't care. My ugly, misshapen body is sure to be ignored once explosives are ruled out, and I'm sure no one will bother to look further. Yes, all these security measures are a bother, but they seem necessary. Safe flights are a high priority for me. Such things wouldn't be necessary if we lived in a perfect world, but that's not the way things are. Let's welcome full-body scans as long as they are needed.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Looking back at Christmas in Tulsa

A Blizzard? In Tulsa?

There's Work to be Done!

The Gifts Await!

The Stockings Were Hung . . .

The first surprise of my Christmas trip was a blizzard: the first ever to hit Tulsa, I believe. Unlike 2008. I managed to avoid airport delays. I arrived before the blizzard and left after it. As usual, the food was excellent; I gained five pounds! That was with careful eating. I can't imagine how much I would have gained if I had "pigged out."

Tulsa lacks Chicago's huge snow-clearing crew, so the side streets were never plowed. Needless to say, we stayed in a lot. It was cold, too. I read a lot and did a lot of puzzles (I never travel without those puzzle books), and I received some fine gifts, including a Flip Video Camera. Now I need to find some suitable subjects for video.

The best part of the holiday was being with family. My grandniece, Lauren, a junior at the University of Arizona, is thinking about her medical school entrance exams already. I wish her luck. Although there were some doctors on her maternal grandmother's side of the family, there have been none among the Marshalls. We seem to be descended from a long line of farmers and craftsmen. Lauren is very inteligent and a diligent scholar, so she should make it as a doctor.

Now I'm back home, and the new year has begun. Life at The Clare will soon be back to normal. My first anniversary of moving in comes in just a bit over a week. As I get older, the time seems to fly past faster and faster. I'm hoping for another great Christmas in Tulsa in 2010.

(Photos by John Marshall)