In this latest post from AFA Teens Advisory Board Member Abril Resendiz, she reviews a novel entitled “Still Alice” and suggests how it has helped her as a volunteer at Alzheimer’s organizations.
For the last several years, I have been volunteering at several different types of organizations, but nothing has had more of a colossal impact on me than volunteering at a care facility for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
I began volunteering at a care facility near where I live in Texas during my freshman year of high school and from the moment I started there, I felt an inexplicable sensation. I soon realized that the people who I was talking to were cognitively impaired. And as a result, our conversations were rather circular. At first, I could not ascertain how to talk to the residents, but after a few visits I realized that the key was to engage them in a conversation in a way that was most meaningful for them.
I formed such a strong connection with these residents that I felt I should learn more about their illness. I wanted to expand my knowledge of Alzheimer's disease to be able to interact with the residents in the most effective way possible.
I read several books to further learn about the disease, and even though they guided me to understand the biology of the disease, I still remained unaware of how someone with Alzheimer’s disease would actually feel as the disease progresses. That is, until I came across the novel, “Still Alice,” written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University.
The novel is a compelling, heartbreaking and terrifying story about a 50-year-old woman named Alice Howland, who is a brilliant Harvard professor, wife and mother of three. The novel depicts her sudden descent into early-onset Alzheimer's disease and the impact that it has on her life. While most books about Alzheimer’s disease are written from the point of view of a clinician or other healthcare professional, “Still Alice” is written from the point of view of Alice, the person who actually has the disease. I believe that this literary approach makes the book that much more powerful.
As Alice slowly starts to lose her cognitive abilities, the story becomes more difficult to follow. Yet, although the description of events as told from Alice’s perspective becomes less clear, mirroring the course of the disease, what is gained is much more powerful: You get to see the feelings of frustration, anxiety and turmoil that Alice experiences.
I believe “Still Alice” is a compelling book that can help family and friends connect more effectively with their loved ones and better understand what they are going through.
The insight I gained from the book has, no doubt, helped me become a better volunteer. One of the caregivers at the facility once told me that she saw me as a messenger—that through my visits, I was delivering joy into these residents’ lives. However, in reality, I see myself as the recipient of this joy, a joy that I believe I acquire each time I volunteer.