Monday, January 3, 2011

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I'm setting aside all attempts to write a clever review today because this book is too significant.  It deserves to be taken seriously.  Ms. Genova first self-published this story in 2007, then it was picked up by Simon and Schuster in January 2009.  Unfortunately, it didn't hit my radar until just before Christmas when a library patron requested that we borrow it from another library.  Alzheimer's disease has become a major part of our lives in the past ten years.  We have watched Dave's mom slowly melt away, to be replaced by a stranger.  But somewhere inside her there is a core, that thing that makes her her, that is still Mom.

Still Alice is the story of a successful Harvard professor, wife and mother who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's at age 50.  What begins with misplacing her cell phone and keys, or "losing" words in conversation - ordinary things I experience every day - develops into moments of terror when she becomes lost in the neighborhood where she's lived for over twenty years.  Soon Alice is repeating herself, forgetting the topic of the lecture she's giving, and the downhill slide continues until she doesn't recognize her own family.  What makes this book phenominal is that the story is told from Alice's perspective.  We share her confusion and fear as she faces losing her relationships, abilities and professional standing - her very identity - and cry with her as she longs to scream "I'm still Alice!" 

During the early years, my mother-in-law was aware of her disease and made allowances for it, such as sitting out a family game of Scattergories because "I can't think like that anymore."  But as it progressed, she began to deny the symptoms.  When we finally had to take the car keys, she was adamant that she never became confused or lost when traveling, even though we could cite instances to the contrary.  I have always wondered if she was truly unaware of these incidents after they happened, or if she was just trying to hang on to her freedom a little longer. Of course, I couldn't ask her.  That's why I found this book so fascinating - to get inside the disease and understand, at least a little, of what she is experiencing.  For example, towards the end, Alice is sitting with her three children.  She knows she has a daughter named Lydia, and has detailed memories of her at various stages of her life.  She believes her husband when he tells her that the woman sitting at her table is Lydia, but she can not make a connection between her memories and this woman. 

The author has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard and has done extensive research on the genetic causes of the disease, it's progression, and research into possible treatments/cures.  I can't say I understood all of the science involved, but I now have a better grasp of how the disease works and hope for a cure before my children have to face this genetic possibility.

In spite of the scientific details, the book is a compelling novel.  I had to take frequent breaks, not because of the complexity, but because the story was so personal.  I felt Alice's determination, bewilderment and, most of all, her fear.  If you have an Alzheimer's patient in your life, this story may be difficult to read but it is a valuable insight into what they are dealing with. 


  1. I loved the book, but don't know anyone aflicted with Alzheimer's. I can imagine it was difficult to get through. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Loved this book; it read like non fiction. I am looking forward to her new book Left Neglected as well. Happy New Year.

  3. I have been interested in reading this book for a while. I think it is an important topic and have heard that it was covered well. The only scenes of this disease that I have read in fiction were from Water For Elephants where the older Jacob has visitors at the nursing home and knows they are family but has not direct recollection of which one might be which. It is told with humor but explains why he kept reverting back to solid memories from the past to make him happy.

  4. This is one of my three "must read" books for 2011. It is a little scary to contemplate, though.

  5. This one looks so interesting.

    I love your vineyard wallpaper!

  6. This was a very insightful book about what it must be like for the person diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. I believe it is a benificial read for the caregiver/family to better understand the fears of the individual. Especially in the early stages, when you are still aware of what is happening. As an Alzheimer's Program Coordinator on a Memory Care Unit the story moved me to tears and I believe helped to make me more compassionate and sympathetic to the needs and fears of my residents. I found this story stayed true to the progression of the disease and hopefully moved the readers to realize the importance of finding a cure.