Monday, September 12, 2011
Alice Howland is a brilliant Harvard psychology professor, successful in her career, with a beloved and supportive husband, three children, a wonderful summer home - in short, a perfect life. She manages a hectic and demanding schedule of teaching and international public speaking, and the day-to-day tasks like finding the car keys for her absent-minded husband. But disconcerting things are happening. She loses her train of thought in a speech she's given countless times before. She can't figure out what something on her to-do list means. She gets disoriented walking her familiar path from the university to her house. She finds reasons for these lapses. It's mere forgetfulness. It's overwork. It's stress. It's menopause. However, her doctor doesn't think so and sends her for assessment: suddenly she's confronted with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's.
The disease takes hold more quickly in those who succumb to it before 65 and Still Alice is absolutely terrifying as it describes the swift and brutal deterioration of an extremely talented and intellectually gifted woman. Alice is smart, and devises all sorts of aids to continuing her life. She even devises a memory test meant to signal when the situation has deteriorated so badly she should take her own life with the pills she's been hoarding. We see different members of her family and her university colleagues struggle to find the best response; they range from denial, impatience, solicitude, avoidance, compassion, and constructive assistance.
talk at TED where she described what it felt like to have a stroke that damaged the left side of her brain and the euphoria she felt as her analytic left side quit working.