Friday, July 17, 2015

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This book has been on my shelf for several years, waiting patiently for me to be ready to read it.


The story is told from the point of view of Alice, a professor at Harvard. She is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. We watch as she and her family struggle with the diagnosis. We watch as she loses her capability to remember and process things as she descends into dementia.

I watched my mom descend into dementia too, which is why I knew this book would be hard and why it's taken me seven years to read it.

My mom's situation was slightly different, just as everyone's experience with any illness is unique. My mom had a stroke in August of 2003. At the time she'd been living alone, managing her very brittle diabetes with frequent blood sugar checks and administering her own insulin at each meal by determining the appropriate dose based on her blood sugar levels.

The stroke affected her memory, judgment and language. When she was in the hospital right after the stroke, and my brother and I were with her, she asked why people kept sticking her with pins. She didn't remember that she even had diabetes, let alone that she had been managing it on her own. At that moment, my brother and I knew that that was the end of her living alone.

In the following year and a half, she recovered some memory and language, and reached somewhat of a plateau. She remembered that she had diabetes, but couldn't remember exactly how to manage it.

And then her memory started getting worse. Her neurologist started her on Aricept and Nameda, just like Alice did in the book, but they didn't seem to help much. Every time we saw the neurologist, she'd administer the ten question test, asking mom if she knew where she was, knew who the president was, knew what season it was. Mom did worse every time.

This was abnormal from a stroke recovery point of view. They did an MRI and she hadn't had another "event" (stroke). Dementia seemed to be setting in. The neurologist didn't make the diagnosis of Alzheimer's. At some point, she said, dementia is dementia, no matter what the cause.

For my mom the dementia progressed relatively quickly. In the last three months of her life she forgot how to use the bathroom. She forgot who we were. She talked about waiting for her parents (who had been dead for decades) coming to come pick her up. At the end, she slipped into a coma and died a few days later.

It was heartbreaking to watch my mom lose her memory, her faculties, and ultimately her life.

It's hard for anyone close to someone with dementia, as Still Alice illustrates so well. Lisa Genova sheds light on Alzheimer's and living with dementia, illuminating the struggle for Alice herself, as well as her family. Well done.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about two other books about dementia, The 36-Hour Day and Contented Dementia. You can read that post here (sorry for the copying and pasting):

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Love's Promises by Martha M. Ertman

Librarything does it again! I was lucky enough to receive an Early Reviewer Copy of Love's Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families (Queer Ideas/Queer Action), by Martha M. Ertman. Thank you, Librarything!


I'm going to start by saying that I don't love the title or the cover. The title (not the subtitle, but the main title - Love's Promises) sounds like a romance novel, and in fact when I tried to find the Powell's link for the page for this book, about a dozen romance books came up before Ertman's book. The cover, with a white background and red cups, looks like a Christian self-help book to me. I think this is unfortunate, as the contents were something else entirely.

Love's Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families (Queer Ideas/Queer Action) is written by Martha Ertman. Ertman is a lawyer, biological mother to her young son, in a committed relationship with a woman, and is co-parenting her son with his (gay) biological father and her partner. Not a conventional situation!

And that's the point of this book. Many of us are not in conventional marriage or family relationships, and can experience challenges with the legal system's inability to recognize and honor these less traditional relationships.

Ertman uses her own life to illustrate that more and more people are involved in less conventional (she calls them "Plan B") situations that are not directly addressed by family law.

Many of us not in conventional marriage or family relationships could benefit from her insight into the legal as well as the unofficial aspects of creating and honoring all sorts of relationships with contracts. She talks in depth about formal and informal contracts that help define and protect relationships.

I appreciated Ertman's affirming tone as well as her concrete ideas for protecting and recognizing the significance, importance, and rights in the relationships that are most important to us.

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