Still Alice by Lisa Genova: The book, the movie and Alzheimer’s up close

Still Alice is written by Lisa Genova published in 2007. The book was turned into a movie by the same title, released in 2014. Julianne Moore played the title character of Alice and won the award for Best Actress at the Oscar for her work in the movie.

To give the premise, when Lisa Genova was a twenty-eight year old, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Lisa being a neuroscientist was able to understand the disease clinically, and read about disease management and caregiving. But, she writes, “I felt sad, upset, scared, embarrassed, frustrated, uncomfortable, powerless, and disconnected. I felt bad for her and bad for us, her family.

The manuscript of ‘Still Alice’ was rejected or ignored by 100 literary agents. Lisa Genova finally self-published ‘Still Alice’ and sold the copies from the trunk of her car. This continued for a year till Simon & Schuster took to publish the book. Eventually, ‘Still Alice’ went on to become the best seller for 59 weeks on New York Times bestseller list.

The book begins in September 2003, with Alice Howland trying to concentrate on a review of a paper to be submitted to the Journal of Cognitive Psychology at home. In between, she is disturbed by her husband trying to find his glasses amidst the morning rush. Alice gets it from the countertop and sighs how her husband, a scientist cannot see things kept right infront of him.

Lisa Genova crafts in so beautifully the fact that there are so many things mischievously hiding and then re-appearing in our daily lives. Alice also had similar situations and had taken them in the natural stride as is our psychological notion. The clocks set at different timings to be on time or just not being bothered to set them correct are never bothersome except when you realize your inability to comprehend the timings. Similarly, forgetting a few words or making connections between the two parts of a communication.

Alice, at the age of 50, had an extremely tight schedule and “She could probably chalk it all up for both of them to excessive multitasking and being way too busy. And to getting older.

Being doctorate in Psychology at Harvard University, Alice is invited to deliver a lecture about the conceptual and neural organisation of language at Stanford. In her lecture of 50-minutes-length, after 45 minutes there came a juncture where Alice could not find the word she wanted to say, “The data reveal that irregular verbs require access to the mental…” She could only blame it on jet lag and the drink.

Later she goes to visit her younger daughter, Lydia who had been living in Los Angeles for last three years. Their relation is strained as Alice wanted Lydia to pursue academics instead of her passion in theater and acting.  

After coming back home, Alice goes for the morning run. She was a habitual runner, never missing a day but these days, the increasing work pressure kept her from her favorite activity. On this morning, she went for the run, on her return at the Harvard Square, she forgot her way home. Alice had known this place for twenty-five years, but now she was mentally unable to figure her the way to home.

Alice is diagnosed by the doctor with early onset of Alzheimer. Her world comes crashing down. It is poignant how this academically proficient woman sees her world collapse with the fading memory.

The movie does an equally justifiable work and Julianne Moore evokes empathy in the viewers for the character of Alice. Kirsten Stewart as Lydia and Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband shine through their roles.

There is an extremely sensitive scene in the movie when Alice is unable to find bathroom in her house and her bladder gives in. It is a devastating moment for Alice; a moment when her husband comforts her and helps her to clean and change to new clothes.

You know from the beginning that ‘Still Alice’ is not a happy, triumphant tale but it is a subject that requires attention from all corners. And, surely, the writing shows Lisa Genova’s personal experience as the care giver and charting out the moments of Alice’s life.

Lisa Genova gave a TED talk in Vancouver: “What You Can Do to Prevent Alzheimer’s” in January 2019 and received over 4 million views on YouTube.

She speaks eloquently about Alzheimer’s disease, how it affects and its progression. It is nice how she says that we all want to grow old but probably, at the age of 85, we may either be affected by Alzheimer’s or turn into a care giver. Despite decades of research, Alzheimer’s is our brain’s destiny in the normal progression. Can we change this status without dependence on medication. Indeed, you may not be showing any impairment in cognitive ability in the 40’s, and it may take 10-15 years before you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but preventive measures need to begin much earlier.

She also talks about why the trials of medications fail. What determines we may get Alzheimer’s?And, things we can do things to avoid the tipping point. 

·         Deep sleep as a power cleanser.

·         Healthy living as an essential key.

·         Making new synapses for the brain.

In summary, building an Alzheimer’s resistant brain.

She ends her TED talk by letting us know three lessons from her experience as a care giver.

·         Diagnosis doesn’t mean you will die tomorrow.

·         You will not lose emotional memory.

·         You are more than your memory.

Sympathy is feeling for someone whereas empathy is feeling with someone. Lisa Genova tries to evoke empathy in us for people living with Alzheimer through Still Alice.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge under Alphabet S

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