A number of books have been written by family members who observe the deterioration of a loved one or friend who has Alzheimer’s. But Still Alice by Lisa Genova is the first book I have read which describes the experience of losing one’s memory through the eyes of the individual herself. This incredible novel is Lisa’s first work. She has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard. Her extensive research is clearly evident. Not only did she work with professionals in the field but through the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network, she spoke daily with people suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Still Alice is a novel narrated by the main character, Dr. Alice Howland, the eminent William James Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Alice is an expert in psycholinguistics who begins to notice strange things happening to her. While she is on a run in her Cambridge neighborhood she finds herself lost and confused. Through her eyes, we experience her decline from a noted scholar to a woman who does not know her husband and children. It is a frighteningly realistic journey. As the son of an Alzheimer’s patient, I can clearly identify the behaviors she begins to experience.
In addition to her own behavior, we observe the devastating impact the disease has on her husband and adult children. Plans made when she is first diagnosed become a shambles as the family is shocked by her swift decline. Lisa Genova also stresses the importance of support groups not just for families of Alzheimer’s patients but for the patients themselves. There are very few outlets for these people to the share the fear and confusion they experience. We are often more concerned with the family’s expression of grief and overlook the patient’s own reality.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has any contact with an Alzheimer’s patient. it will give you a much better understanding of what it is like to stand in their shoes. Nothing I have read evokes such powerful emotion and insight.
In 2014, the book was made into a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore as Alice.
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