Alzheimer's – What if it were me?

By Carol / August 25, 2011 /

Reporters say the sports world was rocked by the news that nationally known Tennessee coach Pat Summitt announced that she has early onset dementia – Alzheimer’s.  I say any of us in our 50s and 60s may be rocked by that news.

When someone like Summitt has Alzheimer’s, someone who is strong, resilient, used to winning? Someone like Summitt makes the disease even more real. She is on the national stage, and because she says she will continue to coach – even with more help from her assistants – we will watch as she loses to this horrible disease.

What would it be like to be her? What would it be like if it happened to me? I can’t help but ask that. Maybe that’s what we all ask.

I read a book that answers the question of what it would be like to have early onset Alzheimer’s. “Still Alice” is written from the perspective of a university professor who learns she has the disease. Author Lisa Genova writes the book entirely from the perspective of Alice Howland, a Harvard psychology professor.

From the earliest recognizable problems of losing her Blackberry, to losing her way to her Harvard office, to losing her way around her own home. We see how Alice responds, how her family – husband and three children – respond, how her colleagues and students respond. We see her efforts to cope, to hang on.

As Alice deteriorates, I kept wondering when Genova would have to get out of Alice’s head and switch to telling the story from the perspective of those who see it happen. She never does. We watch it all happen inside Alice. I felt what was happening to Alice as if it were happening to me.

“Still Alice” is real. It’s raw. It’s heartbreaking.

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