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.

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