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.