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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Alzheimer's, From the Inside Out

Published April 14, 2010 2:55 PM by Valerie Newitt

When I was a kid, I used to walk my great grandmother ("Gramma" to me) around and around the yard, then up and down the front path. Nearly blind, she couldn't see where she was going; she only knew it was quite a distance.

"You're a very nice girl, and I'm glad you're taking me home to my Anna," Gramma would say, referring to my grandmother - her daughter - who'd been dead for 25 years.

When I'd lead her into the front door of our home, my mother would say, "Oh, it's so wonderful that you've come home!" And Gramma, still confused, would say, "Oh, you are both so nice to me, but I still want to get back to my Anna."

It's a bittersweet recollection of trying to make life "right" for my great grandmother, who experienced some form of dementia. We didn't call it Alzheimer's then; it was all painted with the same brush: senility.

As a child, I often wondered what it was like inside Gramma's head. At times she knew exactly who I was, and what she was doing. At other times she seemed lost, even in her own easy chair in her own room - the same one she'd inhabited since the day I was born.

Strange that it's taken me decades - nearly a lifetime - to get a glimpse inside Gramma's confused mind. But some understanding has come at last, in the form of a book, Still Alice.

When self-published by first-time novelist Lisa Genova - described as "author/speaker/neuroscientist/actress" on her Website - the insightful book ignited grassroots reader interest. That attention, adequately fanned by enthusiastic reviewers and appreciative fans with an interest in Alzheimer's disease, prompted a literary wildfire. The end result: Still Alice was purchased by a major publisher - Simon and Schuster - and ended up on the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It comes as no surprise to this reader. From the first page, I was able to crouch inside the mind of the fictional main character, Alice, a Harvard professor who learns the unthinkable:  She has early onset Alzheimer's. I rode atop Alice's thoughts, as she struggles to grasp her evolving reality of life, and the unimaginable losses of memory, ability, function and - most moving of all - recognition of loved ones.

It's a 293-page read about perceived reality, struggles, love, failures and perhaps even some triumphs in the human journey. And weeks after the last page was turned, Still Alice is still in my mind. It will be the July selection for ADVANCE Book Club for Nurses. Please join me in taking a closer look at Alice's - and Gramma's - world through a podcasted interview with Genova.



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