Tag Archives: Alzheimer’s

Review: Goodbye, Vitamin

Recap: As her father further declines into the world of Alzheimer’s, Ruth decides it’s time to come home and help her mother take care of him. She recently broke up with her boyfriend, Joel. She has no real attachment to her job. And unlike her younger brother, she doesn’t have the devastating memories from the years when her father abused alcohol and cheated on their mom. With nothing keeping her away, she heads home.


But when her father is let go from his job because of his health, she becomes determined to keep him as active as possible. Teaming up with one of his TA’s, they help her father continue to hold classes sneaking around empty rooms on campus or having off-campus “field trips.” The jig can only last for so long, but she is looking for something. She needs something for both her father and herself as his brain gets worse and worse.


Her story is documented like a diary or journal. and every so often her father hands her notes from his old journal. The notes detail memories of her as a child, memories that he is quickly losing and ones that she doesn’t recall, memories of happier times. Together Ruth and her father hold onto the past in bits while making new memories in the present and dreading the future and what the disease will likely bring.


Analysis: The format of this book is what really moves the story along. The use of dated journal entries helps to show just how quickly Alzheimer’s Disease progresses. The juxtaposition of the journal entries and notes from Ruth’s dad are a beautiful way of showing how the two of them are desperately trying to hold onto the memories her father is losing. Toward the end, she stops referring to her father as her father, and starts referring to him as “you.” It’s a clear distinction in the writing, showing that she has now started to keep notes for him so he can remember the times they’re spending together as adults.

As eloquent as the formatting is, much of the book is odd and quirky. There are some weird sections about things that happen to her that don’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the book, like when she meets a truck driver or how she tries to avoid the mailman for fear they would have an awkward conversation. I found myself reading these sections and thinking Okay, why do I care about this? At a certain point, I interpreted it this way: all roads lead back to Ruth’s dad. Once I started reading these sections through the lens of “this is how her father must feel when he talks to a stranger” or “this is an weird habit, like something her father might do in his current state,” I found a lot more meaning in these sections.


MVP: Ruth. She wasn’t always the most likable and she’s certainly one of the weirder main characters I’ve followed in a book, but the effort she makes to make her dad more comfortable with the progression of his disease is not only respectable, it’s inspiring.

Get Goodbye, Vitamin in paperback for $8.98.

Or get it on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: The Gene Guillotine

gene guillotineRecap: Kate Preskenis’s world revolves around her mother. Diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease, Kate’s mom struggles through family events, battles daily routines and loses herself from moment to moment. It’s enough to encourage Kate to adapt her life around staying home or close to home to care for her mother. Even though she has a lot of siblings, she wants to be there. It’s Kate who rubs her mom’s feet, who finds their own language to speak.

So it comes as a complete shock when, roughly two years into the diagnosis, Kate’s father dies of a sudden heart attack. But Kate and her siblings begin to wonder how much of a shock it really is. After all, he too had struggled with his wife’s diagnosis. He took on the burden — albeit willingly and happily — of his new role as “caregiver.” Now that role is left to Kate and her brothers and sisters. Together, they must take turns and make plans for their mother who’s getting progressively worse.

As Kate’s mom’s condition worsens, so does Kate’s emotional well-being. Caring for a sick mother is not easy for anyone, especially someone as young as Kate. She wants to be there for her mom and easily drops everything, including other relationships, to do it. But this is not where Kate’s story ends. This is only part one. Part two is the debate over whether she should be genetically tested for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Analysis: In her heartbreaking and honest memoir, Kate Preskenis tells the modern-day version of what Alzheimer’s has become: a haunting disease that so often affects the family members of the patient more than the patient. The disease is all the more bolstered in its chilling effects by the fact that science now enables people to be genetically tested for it. It’s a battle that anyone who has or had a loved one with Alzheimer’s can relate to.

I, myself, lost my father to the disease last year. I’d been lent this book years ago and had never had the guts to read it until now. Even now, I slogged through it; I found the content so relatable, it became hard to read. I was impressed by how closely Preskenis documented her experience. It was obvious that many of her journal entries were likely adapted for the book. She also relied on a tape recorder for conversations with doctors so they could be properly transcribed.

The book ends on a heavy note. She details the process of being genetically tested and debates whether or not to learn the results, and we are also left wondering. Of course, I can’t blame her for grappling with the decision. It’s something I think about every day and have — at this point — opted not to be tested for the disease. As there is currently no cure, there’s not much I or anyone could do about the results. But I do wish the ending offered some semblance of hope for the future of her, her family and the disease. When it comes to Alzheimer’s, we could all use a little hope.

You can buy The Gene Guillotine now in paperback for $14.95.

 

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Movie vs. Book: Still Alice

It takes a lot for a brilliant college professor like Alice Howland to forget her words in the midst of a big speech. But she does. It takes even more for her to get lost just blocks from her home in the middle of her regular run. But she does. It’s then that Alice decides to go for testing. And it’s then — at the ripe age of 49 — that Alice learns she is suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. It doesn’t feel like suffering then. But it does soon, after she clues in her husband and three grown children.

Still Alice tells the story of Alice and her family as they cope with the disease over the next few months. Two of Alice’s children use that time to take a test to determine whether they have the gene associated with the disease — one does, one does not. Alice’s husband spends a lot of that time away from Alice. Her youngest daughter is the one that uses this time to get to know her mother, especially since their relationship has always been somewhat strained.

The movie Still Alice does not stray far from the book. In fact, the way it’s filmed beautifully parallels the way the book is written. In the book, author Lisa Genova writes from Alice’s point of view. As the novel continues, the writing becomes more and more disorganized and confusing to keep in line with Alice’s brain and the effect Alzheimer’s has on it. In much the same way, part of the movie includes blurry, hazed shots — to help show what things look like through Alice’s mind. The movie also becomes disorganized toward the end. Certain plot points are not told to the viewer. We, instead, must figure it out ourselves, similar to the way an Alzheimer’s patient who can’t make sense of things would have to do. It’s messy. There are gaps in time. But that’s what it’s like inside the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

It goes without saying that Julianne Moore’s performance as Alice is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. She portrays that hazy glaze effortlessly — showing that Alzheimer’s is much more than just forgetfulness; it’s a state of desperate confusion and incapability to understand. It is difficult to see onscreen how careless some of her family members are, and Alice’s oldest daughter (Kate Bosworth) and husband (Alec Baldwin) portray that well. However, in the book, her husband does a lot of research on Alzheimer’s and still has a hard time coping. In the movie, we don’t see any of the research or willingness to try to understand. We mostly see her husband giving up on trying altogether.

But what both the movie and book have in common is the power to raise awareness, the power to make us feel, and the power to — hopefully — make a change.

Get Still Alice in paperback for 2.97.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Still Alice

It takes a lot for a brilliant college professor like Alice Howland to forget her words in the midst of a big speech. But she does. It takes even more for her to get lost just blocks from her home in the middle of her regular run. But she does. It’s then that Alice decides to go for testing. And it’s then — at the ripe age of 49 — that Alice learns she is suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. It doesn’t feel like suffering then. But it does soon, after she clues in her husband and three grown children.

Still Alice tells the story of Alice and her family as they cope with the disease over the next few months. Two of Alice’s children use that time to take a test to determine whether they have the gene associated with the disease — one does, one does not. Alice’s husband spends a lot of that time away from Alice. Her youngest daughter is the one that uses this time to get to know her mother, especially since their relationship has always been somewhat strained.

The movie Still Alice does not stray far from the book. In fact, the way it’s filmed beautifully parallels the way the book is written. In the book, author Lisa Genova writes from Alice’s point of view. As the novel continues, the writing becomes more and more disorganized and confusing to keep in line with Alice’s brain and the effect Alzheimer’s has on it. In much the same way, part of the movie includes blurry, hazed shots — to help show what things look like through Alice’s mind. The movie also becomes disorganized toward the end. Certain plot points are not told to the viewer. We, instead, must figure it out ourselves, similar to the way an Alzheimer’s patient who can’t make sense of things would have to do. It’s messy. There are gaps in time. But that’s what it’s like inside the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

It goes without saying that Julianne Moore’s performance as Alice is both breathtaking and heartbreaking. She portrays that hazy glaze effortlessly — showing that Alzheimer’s is much more than just forgetfulness; it’s a state of desperate confusion and incapability to understand. It is difficult to see onscreen how careless some of her family members are, and Alice’s oldest daughter (Kate Bosworth) and husband (Alec Baldwin) portray that well. However, in the book, her husband does a lot of research on Alzheimer’s and still has a hard time coping. In the movie, we don’t see any of the research or willingness to try to understand. We mostly see her husband giving up on trying altogether.

But what both the movie and book have in common is the power to raise awareness, the power to make us feel, and the power to — hopefully — make a change.

Get Still Alice in paperback for $12.97.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.

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Review: Still Alice

Recap: Alice Howland is Harvard psychology professor, an author, a wife, and a mother of three. She’s brilliant, organized, and well put-together. But just a few months before her 50th birthday, she starts to notice some memory problems, forgetting a word here or there or certain sections of her syllabi. She doesn’t think anything of it until one day when she goes for a jog and can’t figure out how to get home from Harvard Square. Instantly, she knows something is wrong. After several doctor appointments and cognitive testing, Alice is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The diagnosis hits Alice and her family like a death sentence. Immediately, two of Alice’s three grown children get tested for the gene associated with the disease. When Alice’s daughter learns she has the gene, she and her husband have their doctors help medically ensure it won’t be passed on to their children. Alice’s son, Tom, doesn’t quite know how to deal with the news. Suddenly Lydia, Alice’s youngest with whom she doesn’t easily get along, is spending much more time with her mother.

As the months continue, Alice’s Alzheimer’s worsens. She’s forced to retire. She forgets names, referring to her daughters as “the mother” or “the actress.” She loses things. She becomes completely dependent on her Blackberry and her family members. She can’t even go running by herself. What’s worse is she knows what’s coming, and there’s nothing she can do to stop it.

Analysis: Even though Still Alice is written in third-person, author Lisa Genova does a good job of letting Alice tell her story. Author Lisa Genova also brilliantly parallels her writing with Alice’s Alzheimer’s. As Alice’s Alzheimer’s worsens toward the end of the novel, the writing starts to jump between Alice’s dreams, hallucinations, and reality. The writing wanders as Alice’s mind does. As she becomes confused, so do we.

Perhaps the best and — at the same time — most painful part of the story is the newly budding relationship between Alice and her youngest daughter, Lydia. Lydia was the one who Alice never understood, but with the diagnosis comes a willingness from Lydia to get to know her mother better. The new bond they form is a stark contrast against the failing relationships between Alice and her husband and Alice and her other two children. Her husband and other kids become frustrated with Alice, and try to “test” her memory.

Still Alice is not only a story about an Alzheimer’s victim. It’s also the story of a family affected by the disease and how they all choose to deal with it differently.

MVP: Lydia. Lydia is the only one of Alice’s children who treats Alice as though she’s still Alice. She realizes that despite the memory-loss and confusion, Alice is still Alice and should be treated as such.

Get Still Alice in paperback for $10.20.

Or get it for your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: The Long Hello and Looking Into Your Voice

Recap: It’s a growing disease and it’s one of the most devastating, not only for victims, but for their families as well: Alzheimer’s Disease. In two books, Cathie Borrie details her experience with the disease, from which her mother was suffering. Borrie recorded many of the conversations she had with her mother, most of which don’t make sense and confuse her mother. But many of them also reveal an underlying layer of wisdom that her mother maintains, despite her memory loss. They also depict Borrie’s commendable patience, frustration, and love for her mother.

Looking Into Your Voice is a transcription of these conversations in poetic form. But The Long Hello incorporates the conversations into an overall story, complete with flashbacks and memories from Cathie’s childhood — allowing the reader to understand what her mother was like before the Alzheimer’s took over.

Analysis: The beauty of these books is again, not just an inside look at Cathie’s mother, the Alzheimer’s patient. But it also shows us how the disease affects Cathie, the caretaker. She gives up her life to care for her mother; there is no man, no job, just a commitment that she’ll be with her mother everyday to make sure she makes it through. Not all caretakers are so generous or willing to make that kind of a commitment, but her conversations show how mentally debilitating the disease can be and often, how necessary it is to have someone with an Alzheimer’s patient at all times. Caring for a person with Alzeheimer’s can take a lot of our of a person, both physically and emotionally.

And as angry and frustrated as Cathie gets — especially when she has to remind her mother that no one is going to take her house away from her — she’s always there. I admire her patience with her mother and those repeated, confusing conversations.

I really enjoyed the way Borrie organized her mother’s quotes and conversations in Looking Into Your Voice. It shows that her mother may not be the same person anymore, but she’s still a mother. She’s still able to give advice — in a nonsensical, yet nurturing way. She’s still able to love her daughter — when she recognizes her. She’s inherently a mother, and that never goes away.

MVP: Cathie. Her selflessness is admirable. Her attitude is mostly positive. And when it’s not, we, as readers, can understand why. As someone who has Alzheimer’s in my family, I know how hard it can be to deal with, and I am envious of Cathie’s patience and tender loving care.

Get The Long Hello for $14.99, or on your Kindle for just $8.15.

Get Looking Into Your Voice for $9.99.

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