A few years ago I went to my primary care physician to have a simple test to determine if I had any obvious problems with my memory, because I had begun to forget names and was having that "it's on the tip of my tongue" event happening more and more often. The test she administered to me is the same one that was given to Alice in the book. (My doctor didn't think I had anything more dangerous than age-related decline.) It turned out that Alice was diagnosed with a genetic form of the illness, handed down from her father, and that her three adult children had a fifty percent chance of having it too.
I remember once knowing a woman whose mother had died of early-onset Alzheimers at 55, and I asked her if she had been tested to see if she had it too. My friend chose not to be tested. In the book, two of Alice's three children were tested, with one having it and one not, the other, like my friend, choosing not to know.
Now, we all know that as we get older, memory is not as reliable as when we are on the top of our game in our twenties and thirties. But lately I have noticed that "tip of my tongue" happening much more often. I know some name or some place, but I just cannot think of it. When I stop trying so hard, it usually begins to emerge from my mind, and if I really care enough, I might try to snatch it out and lose it again. Or, it might pop into my mind. I find myself using wikipedia and the online dictionary/thesaurus to find the answer sometimes.
I cannot recommend the book highly enough. I think I can say I now have a much clearer idea of what might be "normal" memory loss and what might be important to pay closer attention to. I remember when I first had the test, one of the exercises was to count backwards from 100 by 7. I had a really difficult time doing it, until I realized that I could go backwards by 10 (easy) and then add 3, which is what I did. Sometimes I will lie in bed and count backwards by either 7 or 6, just for fun, because it's a good memory exercise and once seemed terrifically hard to do. I was so convinced that nobody could do it easily that I asked a friend if she could do it, and she said, "sure: 93, 86, 79, 72, 65..." And she did it that fast!!
I was worried that I had a problem with one of my memory circuits. I think I'm not someone who thinks that way very often, and that it might be one of my memory pathways I should exercise, just like I exercise my biceps. I'd be interested in what any of my readers here might have to add to this, since it's a very interesting concept: can I exercise mental pathways that will keep them toned up? I know they say that doing crossword puzzles, learning a new language, etc. is good for the brain, is this the same thing?
(News flash: a comment from Kathy gave me a link about Alzheimers that is worth checking out: www.knowitalz.com, and Still Alice author Lisa Genova left a comment and a website: www.actionalz.blogspot.com.)
In the novel about Alice, as she began to lose her ability to use language effectively (and she was a psychology professor who studied language!), she began to gain the ability to gauge people's emotional states through visual clues, becoming more attuned to emotions (and probably to another part of her brain). The reason butterflies are on the cover of the book relates to a story that Alice's mother told her when she was little:
She remembered being six or seven and crying over the fates of the butterflies in her yard after learning that they lived for only a few days. Her mother had comforted her and told her not to be sad for the butterflies, that just because their lives were short didn't mean they were tragic. Watching them flying in the warm sun among the daisies in her garden, her mother had said to her, See, they have a beautiful life. Alice liked remembering that (p. 111).By the time you reach your seventh decade, you can't die a premature death any more. At the age of 66, I think sometimes how short a time our lifespan is, but when I think of all that I have experienced in these years, it seems a very long time. In fact, if I were to develop Alzheimer's now, it wouldn't even be considered early onset. These are facts that give one pause.
And I still seem to have time left in my life to write blog posts, read my favorites, and surround myself with the blessings of health, abundance (not massive amounts of it, but enough), a good mind, and my community of friends and family. It is enough.