Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I just finished reading Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. It was an amazing fictional story about a Harvard professor who is diagnosed with Early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The story is told through her eyes and gives a frightening perspective of what it is like to be slowly succumbing to this incurable disease. From the start, we are introduced to Alice, a well-respected psychology professor, who has a knack for language and travels the country giving lectures. A career-driven woman, she pushes herself to the limit often sacrificing time with her children and husband.

The denial which she expresses initially is very understandable, but the subtle symptoms which Ms. Genova inserts into Alice’s behavior are obvious to the reader. I quickly learned that I could not read this book before going to bed or I would lay awake turning over the pages in my mind. Some of the descriptive scenes were haunting and caused me to analyze recent interactions I had with my own parents, and even my own actions, searching for patterns.

As the story develops, Alice learns to prioritize the time she has left with her family. Their relationships pan out in different ways, some for the better, others for the worse. It is interesting the way Alice describes them, originally by their names and eventually by their profession, gender or role. The changes in her conversations with them is also enlightening to the reader, as Alice no longer tries to guide them, but focuses on appreciating them in the moment.

The challenges facing John, her husband, and the children are heart-wrenching. One can hardly blame them for the choices they each made. It certainly makes me wonder how I would handle being the caregiver of someone with dementia. Another topic that comes up is suicide. Alice has a plan to end her life when she reaches a certain point. Every day she administers a self-check test to determine whether she has gotten there yet. Has she correctly determined her criteria, though? And why should she have to come up with this on her own, without the advice of her doctor? It reminds to check my Living Will and health care proxy forms.

This story is both frightening and moving because Ms. Genova has done her research and created believable characters that we can relate to well. She gives us a picture inside the patient’s head and helps us form a more compassionate way of  interacting with them, rather than write them off or ignore them because we are uncomfortable. I highly recommend reading this book if you are interested in learning more about Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. stmarco
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 14:49:51

    This book was nominated for my book club but didn’t make the final ten. Sounds interesting and worthwhile – it can be tough to dive into such depressing topics.



  2. themiddlegeneration
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:56:44

    If you decide to read it, definitely don’t do it at bedtime. It will get you thinking.



  3. Carol
    Mar 08, 2012 @ 14:01:24

    I found this book disturbing, yes, but there was something there that drew me in and made me love Alice. I enjoyed it enough that I also read Genova’s Left Neglected, which I thought was also excellent.



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