Still Alice … A New Look at Alzheimer’s Disease

Connie Nolan, MSW, LCSW

Connie Nolan, MSW, LCSW

At fifty years old, Alice—a Harvard professor--is at the top of her game…teaching, researching and giving talks all over the world.   Then she goes for a jog one day—in her own neighborhood-- and can’t find her way back home.  Her diagnosis is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and her story in Still Alice—told from her viewpoint—is a powerful testament to the fury of this monster called Alzheimer’s.  But perhaps even more than that, it’s a testament to the tenacity and spirit of a woman who couldn’t stop the monster from stealing her mind, but refused to submit her soul.     She remains “Still Alice” cover to cover and I loved her for it. 

 Full disclosure demands that I admit this book also gave me quite a shake and provided a wake-up call that was long overdue.   My dad and two of his siblings are victims of this monster called Alzheimer’s.   I have seen up close and personal the devastation that the disease leaves in its wake…for the patient and for the caretakers.   I have seen my dad—with honor and temerity—struggle to win each small battle and I have seen my mother--dad’s primary caretaker--guard and protect his dignity through each skirmish.  As Alice and her three grown children grappled with the familial aspects of Alzheimer’s, I suddenly saw another layer to this terrible illness.  The monster is not content to devour its victim, but also attacks family members at an alarming rate.  Researchers have isolated two types of genes—risk genes and deterministic genes--both of which have a prominent role to play in the future health of family members of the Alzheimer patient.  In early onset Alzheimer’s, three deterministic genes have been discovered that establish a family member’s link to this ogre called Alzheimer’s.   And here’s where it gets really scary.  If a son or daughter does not have one of these three deterministic genes, they still have a fifty percent chance of getting early onset Alzheimer’s.  If a family member does have one of the three genes, the chances of acquiring Alzheimer’s increases to one hundred percent.   Holy Moly!  This information prompted me to find out more.  Fortunately, with one click to the Alzheimer's Association, I discovered that the deterministic genes are found only in the early onset cases (patients diagnosed prior to age 65) which account for approximately five percent of Alzheimer patients in the United States.   My dad and his siblings were not diagnosed until their early 70’s which places them in the ninety-five percent bracket of traditional Alzheimer cases.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that our family members are out of the woods yet.  The fact that three siblings from the same family were attacked by this monster seems to indicate a strong genetic link.  At this point, researchers are stating that only the risk genes are applicable to traditional Alzheimer patients.  Risk genes—when present in a family member--indicate an increase in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, but do not guarantee that it will happen.    

 My dad… and over five million other Americans are in the trenches every day…fighting this monster.  And if no cure is found...that number of patients will almost triple to 13.8 million by the year 2050—and that’s just in this country.   Fortunately, there is some hope.  Clinical research is adding to their arsenal of weapons every day as they learn more about the brain and how Alzheimer’s Disease forms its attack.   Unfortunately, in order to keep this momentum moving forward, these researchers need help from everyone.   Recruiting and retaining clinical trial participants is the greatest obstacle to beating this enemy called Alzheimer’s and winning the war.    If this article has peaked your interest about Alzheimer’s, detailed information about the disease and the clinical trials can be found at http://www.alzheimers.orgStill Alice can be found at your local library or purchased online at



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About Connie

Connie Slagle Nolan is a Clinical Social Worker who has worked with thousands of individuals and couples on their life journey. She currently has authored a book called "The Amazing Journey of a Relationship" which shares what she learned during her own marital struggles and continues to use in her counseling strategies for others.
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