Have you ever thought about Alzheimer’s disease as it relates to you? Do you have a relative, perhaps a parent who suffers from it? I did. My father. Many thoughts and worries have surfaced since he was diagnosed with “symptoms consistent with Alzheimer’s”. The only way to know for sure if it’s Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia is to perform an autopsy. At that point, it doesn’t seem to matter so much, what it was that caused the loss of memory and motor skills and finally, death.
I believe it was Alzheimer’s but I’m not sure it matters. What matters to me now is, is it hereditary? Will I get it too? Probably? Maybe? Every day I look for it. Am I forgetting too many things? Is it that I forget or that things just seem to skim the surface of my consciousness? I am preoccupied, I am not paying attention, I just don’t care enough about that particular fact. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know anything for sure.
My friend suggested I read a book called “Still Alice” and I did. I just finished it and it was wonderful and highly recommended for anyone, whether you have people close to you suffering from it or not. It was written by a woman who has a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer’s Association. Combined with that knowledge, and a definite writing flair, she has crafted a fictional account of a woman besieged with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The woman is only fifty when she is diagnosed.
The novel is written from the POV of Alice, so the reader identifies with the confusion, the uncertainty, the despair she goes through as the disease progresses. Alice can only sit and watch her life fade away, as she struggles to hang on to memories of her husband and children. When she can’t remember their names, she still remembers them. She knows they are her son and her daughters, but fears she doesn’t know this through understanding, but because they keep telling her.
She struggles to understand as her family talks around her, as if she weren’t present. She wants to tell them things but can’t get her thoughts out fast enough and forgets them anyway. She hallucinates and believes there is a hole in the floor that she must go around. She tears the house apart looking for things but then can’t remember what those things are. She can’t recognize herself in the mirror, because she thinks she is a young girl. She confuses her dead sister with her daughter.
It’s powerful, the thoughts and fears that Alice experiences. And the writing is brilliant, very moving, and educational too. Add to all that, the development of some very fine characters and you have a novel well worth reading, not only for the knowledge it imparts but because it is a moving story. I hoarded this book. I didn’t want it to end.
I thought of my father, as I read it, and wondered how much of this he went through. No one knows for sure, because no one who is going through it can tell you what it’s like. We watch our parents suffer with it and yet, on some level, we think that won’t happen to me, or I’ll deal with that later. This novel brings it home, makes it real. If you aren’t comfortable with that knowledge then this novel may not be something you’d care to read.
I’m glad I read it, but up until now, I don’t think I was ready.