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“Please don’t look at our scarlet A’s and write us off. Look us in the eye, talk directly to us. Don’t panic or take it personally if we make mistakes , because we will. We will repeat ourselves, we will misplace things, and we will get lost. We will forget your name and what you said two minutes ago.”
This is part of the speech that fifty year old Dr Alice Howland, once a Harvard professor who taught courses in cognitive psychology and researched linguistics , delivers at the opening plenary presentation of the Dementia Care Conference. Now she is Alice Howland, Alzheimer’s victim.
Alice was highly respected and admired at the job she was passionate about, had a loving husband, three children, and a rich and fulfilling life. What began as little episodes of forgetfulness is soon identified by the doctor as an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alice is aware of what the disease is and the rapid escalating erosion of her memory. She decides to create a plan for the time when she would be labeled mentally ill and would become someone people avoided and feared.
In her Blackberry phone, Alice types in five questions that she must remember the answers to. If she has any trouble answering these questions, she should go to a file named ‘Butterfly’ on her computer and follow the instructions given there.
She puts an alarm on her phone, as a recurring reminder at 8.00 am every morning , with no end date.
It is heartrending to watch Alice’s descent into Alzheimer’s . When she brushes her teeth with her moisturizer, and tries to call her husband all morning with the television remote control. When she can’t remember where the bathroom in her house is, and soils herself in the hallway.
Alice becomes increasingly isolated – she can no longer go for a jog by herself and she quits teaching because she makes errors there. She stops going out with friends because she feels uncomfortable. She was an independent woman, but comes to rely on her husband and children to take care of her.
At many points in the book, I wished that she would stop registering what was happening to her, because her helplessness was awful. I felt relief when the disease completely takes over.
Alzheimer’s takes away everything Alice values until she is blessed enough to not remember or feel the shame and humiliation. But she is Still Alice.
Still Alice wounded me and left me with a feeling of helpless despondency. It also gave me new respect for Alzheimer’s victims and their caregivers.
An absolute must read.
By Lisa Genova
320 pages; Publisher – Gallery
Available on Amazon and other online stores as an ebook and print ; Available in stores