The Art of Losing: Alzheimer’s Awareness in Still Alice

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to witness people documenting their daily rituals—the food they’re eating, the clothes they’re wearing, who they’re with, or where they’re going. At times it feels as though the public is obsessed with preserving these seemingly insignificant moments, as if it’s crucial that not a single detail is forgotten. But for the increasingly large number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, this obsession with remembrance is a routine that signifies their cognitive descent. With the number of cases escalating, public awareness is essential to build support for more research to develop treatments and identify preventive steps.

Within five days of its release, the movie Still Alice has already been nominated for eight awards for its portrayal of a family that is forced to confront this deadly disease. In the film, Julianne Moore depicts an acclaimed professor of linguistics at Columbia University who is diagnosed with familial, early-onset Alzheimer’s. Based on the bestselling novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, Still Alice offers a window into the tragic reality of what it’s like to knowingly face a disease that, as of yet, has no cure. With her husband (played by Alec Baldwin) working as a medical researcher, the characters are able to shed some light on the scientific details of early-onset Alzheimer’s when speaking with Alice’s neurologist; but it’s done in a way so as not to overwhelm the audience with technical language.

Although Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, it seems as though many members of the general public remain unaware of its alarming statistics: it is not only one of the most prevalent diagnoses among the elderly (according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 3 seniors are affected with dementia); it is the single most expensive disease in the country. Studies are ongoing with the hopes of finding an effective treatment for slowing the mental deterioration in patients, and educational programs have been implemented to spread awareness. Of the many initiatives being taken throughout the country, the Dana Foundation offers its own “Staying Sharp” program to provide free educational booklets and public forums on maintaining cognitive function. Another public program, “My Brain Movement,” is run by the Alzheimer’s Association and has the support of the women who helped in the making of Still Alice.

When Alice is asked to speak on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association in the midst of her decline, her character offers valuable insight about living with the condition. Despite her worsening condition, she is still very much present. She admits that that greatest struggle lies in the ability to cope with the loss but then expresses optimism in the fact that, “like all diseases, there is a cause, progression, and cure.” Still Alice succeeds in not only drawing the public eye to an issue that requires a full sense of urgency, it offers an intimate perspective on a mysterious condition that affects so many.

–Seimi Rurup

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