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Book Review

Still Alice

Still Alice coverpage
We have heard stories about what life is like as a person caring for somebody with Alzheimer's disease. We learn what it's like to watch a loved one gradually lose their ability to perform simple tasks and to interact with those around them. Scientists can tell us in minute detail about the changes that are occurring in the brain of someone with the disease, mapping the subtle alterations in genes and proteins to the person's decline in symptoms. It is rare, however, to hear the story from the other side, from the point of view of the person who actually has dementia. What is it really like to have Alzheimer's disease?

Still Alice is a novel that begins to answer this question. Written by American neuroscientist Lisa Genova, Still Alice is a fictionalised account of a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 50. Alice is a successful academic, a lecturer of neuroscience at Harvard University. She leads an exhaustingly active life with a jam-packed schedule, juggling her love for her work with her commitments to her scientist husband and three grown-up children.

The book follows Alice's experiences from her initial symptoms of memory loss, which she dismisses as merely down to stress and a natural part of growing older, through to her diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. It follows her gradual decline as she continues to fight for her independence, and describes the agony of her husband's futile search for a miracle cure. Alice watches as her family struggles to handle her diagnosis, and she sees the resulting tensions and battles of will amongst her loved ones.

However, this story is really about Alice herself, and how she comes to terms with her condition. As she rapidly loses the fast-paced life she had taken for granted and experiences dementia as a patient instead of as a scientist, Alice is forced to re-evaluate her life and the things that define her.

As the disease takes hold, we see the world through Alice's eyes. It is a fragmented, lonely and unstable place, but punctuated by unexpected moments of humour and occasional flashes of striking clarity and insight.  

Still Alice is a fascinating 'through the looking glass' tale that gives the reader a true sense of what it might be like to experience Alzheimer's disease first-hand. At once both heart-warming and unnerving, it is told entirely from Alice's point of view. The story is carefully woven to ensure that the reader still has a hint of what is getting lost in translation. Still Alice is engaging, informative and enjoyably thought-provoking. It also represents a valuable step forwards in the drive to raise public awareness of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, a crucial aspect in the fight to defeat these devastating conditions.

Review by Anne Corbett, Research Communications Officer at Alzheimer's Society

Still Alice is published by Simon and Shuster (isbn is 978-1-84737-523-0) and it is available in all good book shops priced at £12.99.