Still Alice: The Scariest Book I've Ever Read

I knew that Still Alice by Lisa Genova would bother me. A highly-intelligent, young (fifty, which is young for this condition) woman who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's? A woman who does everything she can to stay healthy,
mentally and physically is plagued with this horrible disease way too early]. I'm all about preventative care; I've been wearing sunscreen since I was sixteen, am very active, get physicals every year, and try to stay away from saturated fat and all those other things that will kill you (although I do drink Diet Coke and eat processed sugar, so subtract five years). My point: the things you can't control about your health frighten me. Like Alzheimer's. 

My grandmother is in her eighties and is suffering from the disease, and the progression was slow, until the last year or two (I don't want to divulge too many personal details, because it's not my place, but I saw her over the weekend and if I were a betting woman I'd say it's the later stages of Alzheimer's). She was an opinionated, productive, busy woman her entire life, raising six children. She played bunco, was in a bowling league, ran Girl Scout troops, volunteered at the food bank, was in the church's Mission Circle, camped in the trailer with my grandpa once a month, and enjoyed crafts. She wasn't the type of grandmother that would jump up to tell make you a sandwich- she pointed you to the fridge and told you to help yourself. She was always up for a last minute trip to the store and could kick most people's butts at Up Words. She was active mentally and physically, but the synapses in her brain decided to rebel. Nature? Nurture? Both? 

Alice, in Still Alice, knew something was up when she started forgetting things frequently. Some of the things were simple, like her Blackberry. But there were also more important things, like how to get home when jogging around the neighborhood she had lived in for years. She devised a test that asked basic questions about her life and programmed her phone with an alarm so that she'd take it every morning. If she failed she included a note directing herself to a folder on her computer with instructions on how to commit suicide. It was fascinating to see the loss of complexity her answers contained as the months, and her illness, progressed. Her relationships changed, her position at work became obsolete, and all the while a little piece of her knew that she wasn't who she once was. 

It's a horrible way to live. And die.

Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that effects more than just simple memory; it takes over how people act, think, and behave. It effects more women than men and is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. There is a lot of promising research, some of which links cardiovascular health and head trauma to developing the disease (also genes and race). Prevention suggestions range from staying active, to eating healthy, to staying social and intellectually challenged. [source].

Still Alice broke my heart, but not with the ending I thought I saw coming. Forgetting the people and things you love is almost as bad as them being ripped away from you. But, then there's the other side, too. What about those who love you that are no longer remembered? And must give up so many things to care for you? It's horrible for everyone and there is no "right way" to do it. For some families, caring for the person in-home with some professional assistance might be their right way. For other families, placing the person in a facility with round-the-clock care might be their right way. I've already told my husband that I'd like to be placed in a center (a really nice one, though, with like botanical gardens and piano players and fluffy robes) if I develop anything along these lines. 

Confession: I hadn't visited my grandparents in seven months before reading Still Alice. It's hard going over there, for me personally, and I can't take Sawyer since it's just not the right place for him now that he is so crazy mobile. Lisa Genova offered me a new perspective though, and I felt inclined to pop in for a few moments to say hi (they live an hour or so away). 

Getting old sucks. So, while we're in the process of slowly dying it's important we make the most of our time. Put that on a Hallmark card. 


  1. What I found most sad about Still Alice was the questions, and how she increasingly couldn't answer them, but thought she was doing ok

  2. This is one of those diseases, like some cancers, that terrify me. It could happen, it could not. And very little I do can prevent it (I eat well, exercise, etc., but that doesn't seem to be enough). Getting old does suck.

  3. This was such a hard book for me to read, so devastating, and I have zero connections with the disease. I only have one grandma and she just turned 85, and she does not have Alzheimers. I know I am lucky, and I know I couldn't have read it if someone close to me suffered from it. Getting old truly does suck and it is terrifying.

  4. Agree, a very tough book. My husband and I both have a family history of dementia so the cards are stacked against us. On the plus side, we take our Vitamin D each day and joke about the fact that my difficult uni study will keep the Alzheimer's at bay for another few years. But the important thing is we DO talk about it and I say that because one side of the family doesn't. And there are obvious issues but no one's allowed to mention them. It makes it very difficult. On the other side of the family, the attitude is "When the time comes, don't hesitate to chuck me in a home!" *we will, I say :-D *

    Of course, because of my study, I'm obsessed with genetic testing (it is early onset on one side of the family), but like the family in the book, wanting to know or not brings with it a whole bunch of other issues.

  5. So agree: absolutely terrifying. Loved this book though and the different perspective it gave on Alzheimer's. I wouldn't wish this disease on my worst enemy. Do you have plans to watch the film? I haven't yet, but have heard good things about it.