The recent movie, “Still Alice” chronicles one of the most feared diagnoses associated with aging: Alzheimer’s Disease. In the movie, Alice is a linguistics professor whose early onset Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) brings to our attention the progressive stages of the syndrome and its effects on family and friends as well as the patient.
Alzheimer’s Reading Room (alz.org) describes AD this way: “Experts agree that Alzheimer’s, like other chronic conditions, usually develops as a result of complex interactions among multiple factors, including age, genetics, environment and lifestyle, and coexisting medical conditions.” Some researchers believe that the development of beta amyloid molecules, the building blocks of amyloid plaques, may already be present in some people in young adulthood, and that instead of being an attack “out of the blue,” AD may be a part of a life long process. Research on why the disease manifests itself in some and not others and even the ability to definitively diagnose the illness is progressing, but many questions are still unanswered. Awareness and research are our tools in coming to an understanding of this brain disease that steals our memories and quality of life.
For those of us whose families have been touched by AD, or probable AD, the journey is bittersweet. We know the preciousness of “Still Alice” moments when the light of recognition is unmistakable in a loved one’s eyes. I always regret that I did not have more moments with my mother, but I also remember a day, long after her diagnosis, when I was reading from a recipe book to her. I didn’t really think she was remembering me exactly, but she had always especially liked to cook our family’s favorites. I began reading to her from her hand-written notebook, the ingredients for Australian Scalloped Tomatoes—one of my favorites. She looked up at me and smiled a smile that I will never forget in one of her “still me” moments.
If you have walked this journey, you will know what that means.