The ‘D’ Word

By Sabrina Völz

still-alice-book-coverRecent­ly, I read a high­ly acclaimed nov­el writ­ten by Lisa Gen­o­va, a Ph.D. in neu­ro­science. Her first book, Still Alice (2009), chron­i­cles the descent into Alzheimer’s of Dr. Alice How­land, the emi­nent William James Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy at Har­vard. Rem­i­nis­cent of Char­lotte Perkins Gilman’s short sto­ry, “The Yel­low Wall­pa­per,” Lisa Gen­o­va pens a touch­ing, high­ly accu­rate, and grip­ping account of the effects of demen­tia on the body, mind, and spirit.

Still Alice sends the read­er on an illu­mi­nat­ing jour­ney with the vibrant 50-year-old aca­d­e­m­ic as her diag­no­sis and decline trans­form her rela­tion­ships and require her to answer some hard ques­tions: What should she tell her col­leagues and fam­i­ly? What treat­ment is the best for her? Who is she now that she doesn’t have a career? Does the last phase of her life still have pur­pose and dig­ni­ty? Should she com­mit sui­cide? In con­trast to the mul­ti­tude of books deal­ing with demen­tia from the per­spec­tive of the care­givers, this nov­el is told from the per­spec­tive of the pro­tag­o­nist whose cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties decay until she can only refer to her own fam­i­ly mem­bers in their roles as “daugh­ter,” “baby,” or “actress.”

Although I read the book at one sit­ting, Still Alice would be com­pan­ion for many weeks as I start­ed to face the facts. I, too, am los­ing my father to demen­tia. Demen­tia is noth­ing to be ashamed of, nei­ther for the care­givers nor for the afflict­ed. I’ve come out and start­ed talk­ing about the ‘D’ word. How about you?

For more on Lisa Gen­o­va, watch the clip below.

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