Still Alice Essay

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The film Still Alice deals with a very serious subject matter of a person whose life is turned upside down when she gets a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Throughout most of this film we can see an accurate portrayal of the symptoms associated with this crippling brain disease. During the course of the entire movie Alice Howland progressively goes through the three stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Although this movie depicts the human aspects of this degenerative condition exceptionally well, from a psychological standpoint there are some plot points that prove contradictory to the current real-world research findings for this condition.

When the film starts Alice is a world-renowned professor in linguistics studies at Columbia University and well known for conducting groundbreaking research on language acquisition in children. Later on, in the film it can be seen how her academic specialization has an ironic twist as she begins to suffer from language impairments which is one of the most severe hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (What Are the Signs of Alzheimer's Disease? n.d.). At first glance Alice seems to almost have a perfect life as she has a great marriage with a successful medical researcher and has three grown up children. But as the movie progresses Alice’s life begins to become an emotional rollercoaster as she starts to notice some unusual forgetfulness in her daily living. It first starts when she was speaking at UCLA and she momentarily could not think of a word during her speech. Alice seems to dismiss this incident but she becomes more worry when all the sudden she couldn’t figure out for a moment where she was while jogging close to Colombia where she teaches.

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As someone who is well educated Alice refuses to dismiss her symptoms and decides to consult with a neurologist. He tells her that she is suffering from sporadic memory impairment which is not common for someone like her who has just turned fifty. The neurologist ask Alice questions regarding her family history and administers some cognitive test on Alice to see if she is able to recall or at best recognize a name and an address. Base on his observations the neurologist tells Alice that there is evidence of a sharp decline in her level of mental functioning and that she will need to be subjected to some brain imaging testing because she fits the criteria for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (Glatzert & Lutzus, 2014). From there the film follows Alice's every trial and tribulation as she tries to fight this vicious disease but as it progresses Alice is no longer able to continue living her normal everyday life. This can be best seen by how Alice meets with her department chair at Colombia and he tells her that her student evaluations were very negative and reads her some comments: One student wrote, “I was thoroughly disappointed. The content was muddled, and delivered with little focus or care.” Another one said that “The course was erratic. I had a hard time following Dr. Howland’s lecture. It seems like even she gets lost in them” (Glatzert & Lutzus, 2014). Alice then has no choice but to tell him that she has Mild Cognitive Impairment, and that she had been diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. She tried to convince her chair that she will do a better job in the coming semester and that she would like to remain in the department for “as long as we all think it’s possible.” However, Alice memory ability begins to deteriorate at a fast pace and it becomes clear that many things in her life are no longer in her control. Consequently, Alice has to stop working. Alice's condition also begins to take a toll on her personal life as she forgets a dinner date with her husband’s boss and spouse. As a result, her husband becomes frustrated and upset, Alice then becomes defensive and tells him that she has Alzheimer’s and that’s why she forgets. It seems that Alice is trying to avoid any social situations because she says that maybe that’s for the best: “I don’t know what I would have been like at a dinner party. I might not be able to remember names or answer simple questions—never mind get through an anecdote” (Glatzert & Lutzus, 2014).

Being face with a rapid deterioration Alice does her best to cope with her condition but also decides to formulate a plan to end her life once she comes to that point in her disease where she can no longer remember the answers to the questions that define who she is. Despite being a dramatic work of fiction “Still Alice” proves to hold many truths about people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Albeit there were instances throughout the film where there were some contradictions and inaccuracies to what current research says about Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, Alice seems to deteriorate way too quickly compare to most people who suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s. Since there is data that shows that most Alzheimer’s patients tend to decline slowly, and most can live up to 10 years or more once diagnosed (Schwartz, 2018, chap. 10). Alice’s deterioration would appear to be quite extreme to anyone who has basic knowledge about how Alzheimer’s progresses. In the movie there was a scene that stood out to me where Alice’s neurologist presents an contradictory explanation as to why Alice is declining so quickly. When John her husband tells the neurologist that they are alarmed of how rapidly the decline was taking place the doctor explained that this was commonly seen in people with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s additionally he said that among people who have a high level of education, the progression can become much faster. However, this goes against the idea of cognitive reserve in which research shows that people like Alice who are highly educated and intellectually well versed have a greater cognitive reserve which gives them the ability to off set and fight some of the symptoms of the degenerative brain changes and neuronal damage associated with Alzheimer’s or other brain diseases (Harvard Health Publishing, n.d.).

Although this film takes some liberties in portraying Alzheimer’s disease for the most part it sticks to the truth and does a good job at presenting the overall human struggles and limitations that stem from this condition. For instance, in the movie Alice is not only burden with her own condition but also the idea that her kids could inherit it from her. This and other ideas presented in this film appear to be back up by real-world research on the genetic and environmental component that could contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet, n.d.). Additionally there is a scene where the neurologist discusses the idea of how amyloid plaques within the brain is a common feature of Alzheimer’s but not a determining factor because even people who don’t have the disease can have such plaque buildup, hence why brain scans are used in conjunction with other indicators of the disease to make a final diagnosis (Glatzert & Lutzus, 2014). In closing, as a viewer I enjoyed this film because it does an exceptional job at conveying what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease and takes us through each of the three main stages associated with the condition.

The film makes emphasis of what it feels to be in the shoes of someone with Alzheimer’s by having scenes in which Alice is asked to speak about the disease and her journey. Some of the scenes which demonstrate this is when Alice’s daughter Lydia asks her: “What’s it like? What does it actually feel like?” Alice answers: “I have good days and bad days. On my good days, I can almost pass for a normal person. And on my bad days, I feel like I can’t find myself. I’ve always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation, and now, sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me but can’t reach them, and I don’t know who I am and don’t know what I’m going to lose next.” (Glatzert & Lutzus, 2014). This scene ends with Alice thanking her daughter for asking her how she felt. I think this is an important part of the film as all viewers can relate to it in one way or another because we all long for understanding, and this conveys how sometimes a small act like this can bring dignity to someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. There is also a powerful scene of Alice giving a speech at the Alzheimer’s Association in which she speaks of her harrowing personal journey of having to live with Alzheimer’s. After all, it can be argued that for the format and genre in which this condition is portrayed the inaccuracies found within the story line are very minor for this type of work. For this and many other reasons most people like myself would agree that this movie does in fact offers a true-to-life portrayal of Alzheimer’s disease which manages to capture not only the human aspects of the disease but also some of the scientific and psychological aspects behind Alzheimer’s disease.

References

  1. Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers-disease-genetics-fact-sheet. Glatzert R. (Producer), & Lutzus L. (Director). (2014) Still Alice [Motion Picture]. United States: BSM Studios
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). What is cognitive reserve? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-is-cognitive- reserve.
  3. Schwartz, B.L. (2018) Memory Foundations and Applications Third Edition. Los Angeles: SAGE publications, Inc. What Are the Signs of Alzheimer's Disease? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease.
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Still Alice Essay. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 14, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-portrayal-of-early-onset-alzheimers-disease-in-the-film-still-alice/
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