Here at Marshall, Parker and Weber we spend a lot of time reading legal documents, but sometimes we can get away from the legal nitty-gritty and pick up a non-legal book relevant to elder law. For anyone looking for a good read, we recommend Still Alice by Lisa Genova.
The book is an insightful portrayal of a woman’s progression with early- onset Alzheimer’s disease from her vantage point. Not only do we get to experience what is going on in her mind, but we see how she perceives the support and struggle of her family along the way.
Our story teller is Dr. Alice Howland, a renowned Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A very intelligent and organized professional, Alice prides herself on the knowledge she has amassed in her field. Our journey with Alice begins with her presenting to colleagues at Stanford University. Consistently an animated and impeccable presenter, Alice suddenly cannot find the word she is looking for to describe a concept in her presentation. Blaming it on a glass of champagne she had at the event, or perhaps the jet lag from her travel, Alice shrugs it off.
After returning home from the conference, Alice goes for a run, as she has done almost every day for years. What starts as a typical run on her customary route soon turns terrifying. Alice suddenly does not know how to get home. She panics as she tries to figure out which direction to turn. While she recognizes the buildings that surround her, the context of these buildings is lost on her.
Eventually finding the route home, Alice convinces herself these are just the symptoms of menopause kicking in. After all, she is in her early fifties. However, as the episodes of forgetfulness begin to build, she decides to consult her doctor.
We follow Alice through her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s by a neurologist, and the initial disbelief and refusal to accept the diagnosis by her husband. At the insistence of her husband, Alice goes through genetic testing, which confirms that she carries a PS1 mutation. She is heartbroken to have to share this news with her three children, knowing they will each have a fifty percent chance of also developing Alzheimer’s disease.
We watch as Alice is forced to question her ability to continue teaching and advising students, a large part of what defines her. We see how the diagnosis changes her thoughts on how she wants to spend her cognitive moments in life. Alice finds comfort and understanding through creating an early-onset Alzheimer’s support group.
Alice’s condition progresses, and she begins to forget her children. She can feel her self-awareness slipping away. Although she internally has thoughts or feelings she wants to express, she is unable to put the words together to communicate these to her family. Along the way, Alice and her family find ways to preserve her legacy, to ensure that she remains Alice long after her memories fade.
We hope you will pick up this book and take the emotional journey with Alice. Additionally, if you are not a reader, you will be happy to know that the movie version of the novel recently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. Hopefully the Oscar buzz that is already growing around the performance of Julieanne Moore, as Alice, will continue to bring attention to the cause to help fight Alzheimer’s disease.