Portrait of a Struggle: Still Alice and Early Memory Loss

The AGE of Central Texas Blog is proud to present the following post by K.C. Lawrence, our new Early Memory Loss Support Program Director. She reflects on how Still Alice illuminates her work with Early Memory Loss patients, and how her work, in turn, sheds light on the novel and the film.

The film Still Alice is based on a book about a Harvard linguistics professor diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.  It chronicles the rapid progression of the disease from Alice’s point of view:  over two years, the disease takes her from working full-time to not recognizing her children.  The story covers her struggles at work, changes in her relationships, and how she grapples with losing her independence.  Most of all, the story shines light on the changes in how a person with cognitive impairment views herself, those close to her, and her world.The movie reflects the experiences of our participants in AGE of Central Texas’ Early Memory Loss Support Program.  This program provides early intervention for people with memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.  On a weekly basis, our participants meet to share strategies, activities, and support each other through the changes they are experiencing.

In the book, Alice notices that those closest to her can’t understand exactly what she is going through, and she starts a support group.  She finds comfort in sharing her struggles with others, as well as finding a safe place where it’s ok to forget words or lose your train of thought when speaking.  Alice seems to feel that the support group is a place where she can be herself and feel understood.

It is our hope that AGE’s Early Memory Loss Support Program provides similar benefits for our participants.  While participating in a brain booster game, they laugh together as they work to remember the name of a famous actress.  As they discuss current events, participants wait patiently if someone needs a moment to find a word.  After a painting activity, participants share what they have made and openly admire each other’s artwork.  In a support group, participants share their frustrations, challenges they are facing, and strategies they use to cope.  Some participants say that they have accepted their diagnosis and share how they are able to come to terms with slowly losing their independence.  Others have been diagnosed recently, and say that they grapple with how to make sense of the changes they are experiencing.  Participants joke together about their memory loss, finding humor in even the most heartbreaking of situations.  Participants are adamant about remaining positive and say that they focus each day on how to make the most of the time they have left.  They, like Alice, learn to redefine themselves as the disease progresses.  It is truly inspirational to witness.

photo 5 (1)Early Memory Loss Support participants.

The impact on caregivers cannot be underestimated.  Our Early Memory Loss Support Program offers a monthly support group for caregivers, who face not only the challenges of taking care of someone 24/7, but also grieve the relationship they used to have with that individual.  Wives, sisters, husbands, and daughters lament that they can no longer share their thoughts with their loved ones, because they cannot understand complex concepts.  These strong caregivers bond over their shared struggles, including feeling lonely and overwhelmed.  The unpredictability of the disease can be overwhelming, when caregivers don’t know what will manifest from day to day or moment to moment.  Wives share how their husbands are quick to anger when they never have been before.  Daughters share frustrations of how their fathers change their mind about something from moment to moment.

We hope that through our program, participants and caregivers find their load a bit lighter.  Like Alice, they find camaraderie with others facing similar challenges.  We are grateful for Still Alice – illuminating a population that is often overlooked in our youth-focused culture.  As Julianne Moore, the star of the movie, recently said in an interview, it is through facing our own mortality that we learn to truly treasure life:  “You learn how much you love to live in the face of loss.”

K.C. Lawrence graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with her Master of Science in Social Work in 2012.  She has experience working with older adults in a variety of settings, including home health, hospice, and long term care. As a medical social worker at Golden Acres Living and Rehab in Dallas, she managed a caseload of approximately 100 residents, including working with 30 patients with dementia who lived on a secure unit and their caregivers.  She also worked with patients and families to plan discharges from short-term rehab.

If you are interested in finding out more about Early Memory Loss Support, you can reach her at klawrence@ageofcentraltx.org or 512-600-9276.

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