by Lisa Genova
This is a fictional story is about a woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. It's a topic that has interested me as the daughter and caregiver of a woman who likely had Alzheimer's. But lucky for my mother, she lived a long life and accomplished many things before she was disabled by the disease late in life.
The story is told through the eyes of Alice. She is just 50, a highly respected professor and scientist at Harvard. She begins to be aware of instances where she can't find the words she wants, misplaces things or becomes temporarily disoriented. At first she suspects menopause and makes an appointment with her doctor to confirm her suspicions. Her doctor thinks it is more than just menopause and sends her to a neurologist who suspects Alzheimer's. (The author admits that a quick diagnosis is not usual for early onset Alzheimer's disease. For the sake of the story she cut through the potential months and years of looking for the diagnosis.)
Alice's husband is a biologist and she is a psychologist with emphasis on linguistics. Through their Harvard connections they research treatments, medications and clinical trials. Unfortunately, there is not much hope for Alzheimer's victims. Alice develops routines and processes to help herself navigate her way through her days. She contemplates suicide and creates a plan to carry it out when the disease has stolen too much from her. Written in the first person, we feel not only her frustration as she stumbles through obstacles that never were before, but also horror as we realize how much more the disease has affected her than she does.
The story hit emotionally close to home for me. I have issues with my own memory, I have as far back as I can remember, so I don't know how concerned I really need be. But to know that I am not too young for Alzheimer's is a terrifying thought. Having cared for my mother as her life escaped her memory of it really allowed me to feel what Alice was experiencing as I read it. The story moved me to tears more than once. Alice eventually forgets that she was a world renown psychologist and very bright. Similarly, my mother forgot that she earned a veterinary degree in the days when most women who attended college became either teachers or home ec majors.
Alzheimer's not only steals your precious memories, but interferes with immediate memory, too. Listening to people speak is unbearably hard when you can't decipher the meanings of the words quickly enough to follow what is being said. Reading a book is impossible as well as watching TV or a movie. The Alzheimer's victim becomes a silent observer of people and things she feels no relation or connection to. Never mind that it's her own family.
Alice struggles with her relationship with her husband and although I felt he still loved her, he couldn't bear losing her while she was still there. Her children responded differently and although in different processes, all rallied around her, and at least one mother/daughter relationship was better than it had been prior to the onset of the disease. I found this very plausible having experienced a similar thing with my own mother.
I loved this book and felt it gave me a lot of insight to what my mother experienced the last few years of her life and also made me even happier that she came to live with us and I could be with her. I think Lisa Genova did a wonderful and sensitive job of bringing a face and personality to a disease that cripples so many elderly people and even more horrifically, many younger people as well. I wish I had read this book while my mother was still living.