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Monday, April 6, 2009

I Still Remember!

I absolutely love when I read a novel that not only inspires but teaches something as well. Before reading Still Alice I’d never even heard of early onset Alzheimer’s. Lisa Genova does an excellent job of telling the story of Alice Howland, renowned Harvard professor, as she struggles with a disease that will eventually steal what’s precious to us all, our independence. My Great-Grandmother, affectionately known as Madea, succumbed to a form of dementia in October of 2006. I’ve never thought much about what my relatives went through as Madea’s mental faculties steadily declined. I recognized myself in some of the characters in the book. When an adult in their eighties or nineties is seen as forgetful, or cranky we just chalk it up to old age.
Imagine all of a sudden forgetting words, people, and memories. This is what happened to Alice and if you are genetically predisposed, it could happen to you. I was in tears as I watched Alice struggle to maintain her dignity with a disease so undignified. I watched her forget speeches, urinate on herself, and brush her teeth with moisturizer. I watched her tenacity to forge a better relationship with her youngest daughter and hold her grandchildren. As the novel progressed and Alice became increasingly worse yet she always had some fight in her. A doctor can diagnose a death sentence but only you can allow it to kill your spirit. Alice even wished she’d been diagnosed with cancer because people seem to rally more behind a cancer patient than one with Alzheimer’s. I was most proud of Alice when she decided now was all she needed to concern her with not yesterday or even the future.
I thought about myself and how by choice I often remember what I ought to forget and forget what I ought to remember. Prejudice doesn’t always pertain to race or sexual orientation it can also pertain to how people are viewed and treated with certain illnesses or diseases. Who are you more likely to feel for, a person with Stage IV ovarian cancer or a form dementia? I noticed how Alice’s family seemed to converse after learning of her diagnosis as if she were not in the room, implying Alzheimer’s no longer gave her a voice. Alice found a new voice by reaching out to other people just like her. Genetic testing is readily available, but would you want to know now that you have a disease that will severely infringe upon your quality of life?
These are some of the warning signs I discovered in the book: Do any apply to you?
1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing similar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation to time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of imitative
Before reading this book I probably experienced several of these signs and never gave them a second thought. Because of my age I simply didn’t think it was warranted. Now I’ve been made keenly aware that relegating my overall health to only lumps is unsatisfactory. A diagnosis doesn’t always mean a death sentence. Thanks Alice for reminding me that I should learn how to get through the bad days in order to learn how to enjoy the good days. There are always more good days to remember than forget!

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