She's not gone, she's still Alice


I recently read a book that I wish had been available a number of years ago. It gave an excellent presentation of what it is like to be on the other side of Alzheimer's disease. When my husband was diagnosed with the disease in 2002, I knew that it was time for me to become a student of this disease.

New book chronicles Harvard professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. New book chronicles Harvard professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. When a family member has a disease like cancer or heart disease, we take time to learn about it and how it affects them. It is more difficult with Alzheimer's.

A new book by Lisa Genova, PhD, is called STiLL ALiCE. It is a novel about a professor at Harvard who is diagnosed with the disease when she is 50 years old. Dr. Genova shows through Alice how the disease is affecting her thinking. And in time, she demonstrates a greater loss of her thought abilities. But, to the very end of the book, Alice is still a person of worth to be respected and loved. She is still Alice.

Often in the past we may have demonstrated an impatience with those who have dementia. We have assumed that they are "no longer present" at times.

Or maybe we struggled with their difficulties in conversing, thinking that we were having trouble with them instead of vice versa. Through her story, Dr. Genova shares the thoughts Alice has when she is in the midst of the family she loves. They are sometimes encouraging and at other times almost ruthless.

Our society for years has treated those who forget with a varying degree of patience feeling that they were just "showing their age." Left alone, some continue a good while without being diagnosed because of this. And a later diagnosis means a later possibility of slowing down the disease with medication.

Approximately half a million Americans under the age of 65 now have some form of dementia, possibly Alzheimer's.

There is still no cure for this disease, though scientists are working on it. The only thing the medical field can offer is a medicine such as Aricept and Namenda to slow down the disease. Education for the family and friends is important too because you, yes, we, can be of help in caring for these loved ones.

This is not a depressing book, but rather one that I think will be very helpful to everyone. There are presently 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's with that number projected to more than triple by mid-century. That means that you and I will both be very likely to know loved ones who will have this awful disease.

Indeed, in some cases, by the time the victim is diagnosed they may be considered "stupid" by people who don't know the problem. Don't let this be your reaction.

Take a few minutes to consider the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's.

• Forgetting recent events

• Being confused about time or locations

• Difficulty performing familiar tasks

• Difficulty with finding the right word

• Difficulty in making sound decisions

• Changes in mood or personality with mood swings

• Difficulty with working with numbers as in a checkbook

• Difficulty with retracing steps to find items

• Becoming disoriented in a location

• Withdrawal from work or social activities

If you observe these in yourself or someone you know well, please take the precaution of being checked by a physician. Know that no two Alzheimer's patients may exhibit the same symptoms.

If you have more questions, additional information may be found at these web sites: Alzheimer's Foundation, or the Alzheimer's Association, w w Helplines with 24/7 information are: Alzheimer's Foundation, 1-866-232-8484, Alzheimer's Association, 1-800- 272-3900.

For local information and support, consider visiting the Alzheimer's Support Group meeting here at the Renaissance Villa at 4 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. Social Worker Cindy Ingram is the facilitator and helps in finding answers and encouragement.

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2009-07-09 digital edition

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