I have wanted to read this book for the last 6 months and I finally got my wish, and I was not disappointed.
Alice Howland is a respected Harvard Professor that specializes in Psychology and Linguistics. Her husband and herself have worked extremely hard for most of their academic lives. With three children, it hasn’t been easy by any accounts. They both travel around the world giving lectures, research, writing books, and papers.
Lately, she has been noticing that in her early 50’s that she has been forgetting things – her blackberry, words, etc. She chalks up all up to menopause. Then one day while running and returning home, she forgets where is she although, she is just a few blocks away from her home.
When she gathers the courage to go and see her primary physician, and tells her what has been going on and how she forgot her way home and the other things, her doctor doesn’t think that it is menopause. She then goes for a CT scan,and blood work, which all come back negative. Alice isn’t convinced, and pushes to go and see a Neurologist. When she does go to see him, she goes alone to the behavior disorders unit, and finally has a diagnosis. Early Onset Alzheimer’s.
She is totally devastated. She promised her doctor that she would tell her husband, but for a few weeks she doesn’t. And when she finally does tell him, he dismisses it until a genetic test makes the diagnosis 100% accurate. The shock of the diagnosis rattles her and her husband to the core and she is left wondering what am I and my family going to do?
As Alice gradually looses her memory, her husband and children are devastated. Usual things such as making the Christmas dessert, getting angry when she was never like that before, and forgetting where she would place things – like her blackberry for instance in the freezer, and giving herself daily questions that only she would know, and if she would answer them correctly, then it was a good day.
When she starts making mistakes at work, she decides to tell the rest of the faculty, and although, they are sympathetic, they stay away from her like she is a disease. One moment she is lucid in a faculty meeting and the next she is repeating what she had said 5 minutes earlier. She finally decides to take medical leave, and mourn the one thing that she has loved for then 25 years – teaching, lecturing, researching, and proctoring her graduate students.
I really did admire Alice and how she tried to stay positive throughout this unimaginable disease where it not only takes your mind, your thoughts and your feelings, but also taking away mobility, and loss of all other functions. She tried so hard not to let the disease label her or discourage her from anything she attempts to do. I felt in the end of the novel, her husband was spending more and more time away because he didn’t want her to waste away before his eyes, and should be there for his wife.
It gave me insight as to what people with Alzheimer’s go through on a daily basis, and not to judge them. The only analogy that I can think of is of being an infant and they not knowing unless they are taught, but in reverse. They already know what to do, but forget that they have even done it millions or thousands of times before. It gave me how the person felt while gradually loosing their memory, and it not being subjective as it would be in textbooks or articles about the disease as it once was.
I can really appreciate the courage and grace that Alice had when questioning what she was feeling and trying to communicate as the disease progressed. It certainly gave myself another angle to which I can think from when thinking about these people who were once productive members of society. I have also worked with people that have been afflicted with this, and I have to say this is a must read for any type of caregiver or family member to help them realize what is actually going on in their brains, and not to just slough it off and treat it a if it is nothing. These people have a real disease, and they have feelings, they may not know what they are feeling, but we cannot let that from treating them with dignity and respect.
I have a personal reason for reading this as well, my father was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and once a productive member of society, he has recently moved into a nursing home, not being able to care for himself.