Tag Archives: memory

Reviews ~ Losing a Mind

Still Alice by Lisa Genova available for $7-18

Still AliceI was introduced to this title through a Facebook support group of folks dealing primarily with the various forms of dementia and primarily as caregivers. There are a few professionals in the group, as well as a few who have been recently diagnosed with one of the many forms of the disease. If you are a caregiver reading this I highly recommend the group. There are now over 20,000 members from around the world. This means that among the many quick little supporting hugs and prayers, you rarely have to wait long for a practical idea (or several) if you post a specific issue. Many members have contributed to the files section with information, books and suppliers. It is a place to rant, to cry to share funny stories, to seek advice. The group is quite diverse and not all things are for all people but that is what scrolling, hiding and even blocking are for. I lived in that group for several months and still visit when I feel I can contribute something of value.

It took me awhile to get around to reading this book. I tend to be more centered on nonfiction and direct application. I was, in the end, surprised and feel that it is a work well worth the read. Still Alice is not based on real events, it is a work of fiction. It is, however, well researched and the events and reactions within the tale are portrayed in an accurate manner.

Alice is a brilliant and sought after psychologist and linguist that begins to notice issues with memory, her sense of direction and general mental function. After losing her way and her thoughts far too frequently, she seeks the advice of a neurologist and is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. The story is a beautifully depicted tale of her decent into the disease.

I appreciated this book because it brought out several issues directly related to Alzheimer’s, such as the chance of inheritance of the related genes and how to be tested. It also brought out the very real issues with dementia and the problems of caregivers. For instance, it is not an issue that you forget where your keys are, the issue arises when you can’t recall what a key is. Getting lost is one thing, but staring at the same street signs you have seen for years within a block or two of your own home and having no idea where you are – well that may be another matter.

Genova’s research is also evident within the plot line in other ways. We know that dementia can strike the brilliant as well as the average mind – simply “exercising” your brain is no guard against the disease. However, in the words of one of the doctors in the story, when someone spends their lives in active pursuit of knowledge, he or she develops multiple pathways to the same bit of information. When brain cells begin to die, there still remains pathways or pieces of pathways to the same conclusions; it just takes longer to get there.

This last is something that I and others noted in my husband. Until he became bedridden he pushed to learn. He was an active participant in the care that I and the hospice team provided. Perhaps he could no longer walk, but he would turn on the bathroom light when I would wheel him in. On more than one occasion his team would state, “He knows, you can see it in his eyes.”

We were not wishing it true. There was one instance when a volunteer was sitting with him and they were singing. I was in my office working. Suddenly I heard him say, “Oh, Shut up!” I flew out of my office to the dining room and leaned over to eye level. I told him I knew he felt like shit and I was sorry that was the case. However, he had never allowed that to make him rude in the past and now was no time to start. I left and returned to my office. Things seemed to calm down and later, when I went to the kitchen for something to drink, he motioned to me. Drawing me close he gave me a hug. No longer able to walk or take care of any of his needs and fast losing the ability to eat or drink – he still thought, he still reasoned, he still accepted responsibility.

The human mind is the most amazing thing. We know so very little of how it works, how it dies. It is way past time we learn how to care for and protect this most precious gift.

If you have any interest or connection with the world of dementia, give it a read. Through tears and chuckles I think you’ll find it worthwhile.

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Filed under Caregiving Backstage, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

30 Cubed – The Patient

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Damon lay on the bed, his eyes still closed. He did not remember how he had gotten here, but he seemed to remember many other things in detail. The cake his mother made on his 5th birthday. The first badge he earned as an Eagle Scout, miscellaneous bit and pieces of a life he felt was his floating through his mind as if they had happened, well, yesterday.

He heard a door open and soon his wrist was contained in a firm but gentle grip. Opening his eyes he saw a man in a white coat taking his pulse.

“Well, good morning, Damon. It’s nice of you to join us.”

“If you know who I am, would you mind telling me where I am?”

“You are in the Molaison Clinic. When you are ready, I will try to explain what has happened to you.”

“Well, I don’t have any appointments that I’m aware of, so now seems to be a good time.”

The man in white made a note on a chart, placed it in a pocket near the door and drew a chair near the bed. As he settled into his seat he introduced himself as Dr. Cat, short for a lovely long Italian name that no one ever got right.

“Well, you see, Damon, you have been suffering from early onset vascular dementia. For, oh, the last two or three years you have been wandering through the world rather incapable of linking things around you with things in your head. You did not recognize people near to you. You could not remember vast portions of your life, you were unable to take care of yourself in any functional way.

Your family was contacted by our clinic in order to conduct a medical trial. Because of your age, you make an excellent subject. You are under 65, in good health, and you have lived a life that was fairly well documented. You have been active in social networks and your photographic history and communications have been maintained in electronic files. We really couldn’t ask for a more perfect subject.”

Damon pushed himself up in the bed, a slight headache making his eyes blur. “At moments like these I have to wonder if it was safe to give a durable power of attorney to my wife. Just what kind of experiment is going on here?”

“Well, you see,” Dr. Cat smiled, “six months ago you didn’t even remember you had a wife.” During the next hour the doctor explained how Damon had been brought to the clinic. How the damage caused by mini-strokes and loss of blood flow had been repaired. Then the doctors carefully encouraged growth of new brain tissue. The last stage was to use new technology to “upload” all the collected electronic data about Damon’s life that his family had been able to gather. It was an effort to “jump start” the hippocampus in to functioning as it should as keeper of memories, a vital part of what makes a person who they are.

During the next week, Damon was tested extensively and, in the end, deemed well enough to return home. Dr. Cat was sure the program was a success and began to plan further studies.

Several weeks later Dr. Cat drove into the Clinic parking lot prepared to start work early. He had received additional funding and was planning his next round of tests. Applications were already coming in. As he approached the door he saw a figure huddled near the threshold, grasping a prescription bottle tightly, rocking back and forth in some apparent fugue.

“Hey, there. Move on, or I’ll call the police.” No response. He approached a bit closer and barely recognized his patient of some weeks before. There was a note pinned to his jacket.

Dear Dr. Cat.

Before you inflict this sort of thing upon another family I beg you to reconsider. We don’t blame you, for who could have known? At least I take comfort in believing you would not have known. Do you have any idea what it is like to live with someone who possesses a perfect memory? What it is like to have everything you have done in the last 20-30 years recited in explicit detail and not always at opportune moments? You cannot shut him up! The moment a memory pops in his head it pops out of his mouth. The consequences can be devastating, I simply can’t go on this way. Oh, and I’m sorry if I did something wrong, but I may have given him too many of his pain pills. I sincerely hope you can help him; but, please, don’t send him back home.”

Sincerely, Mrs. D. Johns.

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Filed under My Fiction - Very Short Fiction