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Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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Genova, L. (2009). Still Alice. New York, NY: Gallery Books. $15.00 ISBN 978-1-4391-0281-7
 

           Alzheimer’s disease victim, fifty year old Alice Howland, is a successful cognitive psychology professor at Harvard University, an expert in linguistics and researcher. She is the mother of three young adults and wife of John Howland, a successful professor scientist and researcher. When Alice starts forgetting things, like simple words and tasks, she thinks that she is going through menopause but when she gets lost one time in a place near her house that she has been familiar with for 25 years, she knows that something is wrong. As her symptoms progress, she seeks medical help and finds out that she has early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. At first she goes through denial, but when reality hits; her world changes completely. Alice has the support from her husband who is helping her to find the proper treatment, but Alzheimer’s affects Alice and her family.
  

          Still Alice, written by Lisa Genova is a heartbreaking story about Alzheimer’s disease and how it affects the victims who suffer from this terrible disease and their families. The author of the book, Lisa Genova, shows us through the fictitious character of Alice that Alzheimer’s disease is not only suffered by older adults, but it can happen to anyone and at a younger age too, like Alice, a 50 year old successful and fit/healthy woman. Genova decided to write about this subject because her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s when she was in her eighties and it hit them hard. Her grandmother was an independent active woman, but the disease took away from her how she used to be. The book was written from Alice’s viewpoint, but the novel shows not only how Alice’s life is affected but also how Alzheimer’s changed John (her husband) and their children’s life (Anna, Tom and Lydia). The book clearly shows how Alzheimer’s is progressing in Alice and the toll that it has taken in her life and in her family’s life.  It is well described how her life is changing as the days pass; she has to stop teaching and flying to conferences, she forgets what she was doing and where she left things and simple daily tasks. She is trying her best to not let the disease consume her memories but unfortunately she is fighting with an invisible enemy.

            Although Still Alice is a fiction story, everything feels realistic like Alzheimer’s that is real and tragic. Alice’s story takes place from September 2003 when she starts noticing her symptoms (diagnosed in January 2004) to September 2005, when her disease has progressed and Alice and her family have gone through a lot of changes. When Alice was lucid, one of her main worries was that Alzheimer’s can be passed on to children genetically. The moment when she told her husband and children about the disease felt real and devastating. As seen with Alice’s case, Alzheimer’s disease progresses fast and there seems that nothing can stop the outcome. The image of Alice; a healthy, fit, smart and professional successful woman was perfect as an example that Alzheimer’s can hit anyone and that there are no social statuses, races or lifestyles that can help one be one the safe side. There are treatments to help delay the disease but that is all that they can do, Alice went through a clinical trial treatment but unfortunately, it did not work.

            “We, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, are not yet utterly incompetent. We are not without language or opinions that matter or extended periods of lucidity. Yet we are not competent enough to be trusted with many of the demands and responsibilities of our formal lives. We feel like we are neither here nor there, like some crazy Dr. Seuss character in a bizarre land. It is a very lonely and frustrating place to be” (Genova, 251). Alice’s world changed completely when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. As the months passed, she had to stop doing what she loved; teaching and doing research. She had to stop flying to conferences, running alone and being herself. She lost her memories of her children and husband. There were times when she got lost in time confusing reality with the past; bringing her dead parents and sister alive (they had been dead for years). She lost the ability to dress herself, read, type and even had trouble forming sentences and expressing her ideas clearly. The smart and once active woman full of life did not recognize her own husband and children. She did not feel at home when she was at home. Her family were strangers to her, but deep inside of her she still loved them.

            Still Alice is one of the best books I have read. I learned about Alzheimer’s and I cried in many parts of the book. It felt so real and I wish I could help Alice. I definitely recommend this book so that people learn how the life of the victims is changed and how the families suffer because of this disease. Alice’s family was united and supportive; I wonder how people that do not have family deal with this. Genova did a great job with Alice’s story. It is heartbreaking but worth reading.             

 
              
 Work Cited:                                                                   
 Genova, L. (2009). Still alice. New York, NY: Gallery Books.

 

Widowhood and Bereavement

 My grandmother is a widow; she lost the love of her life, my grandfather, over 15 years ago. I know their love story by memory since she loves to talk about my grandfather. She smiles and tells me how great he was and that she misses him; the love of her life and father of their eight children. When my grandfather passed away my grandmother thought she was not going to survive without him. She suffered not only because she missed him but also because she felt remorse for the bad times they went through as a couple. Although they loved each other, they had many problems in their long relationship. They overcame the problems and stayed together until the end. My grandmother says that staying together was the best thing to do since they made that promise the day they got married and their love was real. When my grandfather became sick my grandmother prayed for him to stay with her longer but sadly he passed away. My grandmother had to accept it and continue with her life. Widowhood is a stressful part of life and it can be harder for some elders than others. Elderly widows/widowers go through a lot to overcome their grief and bereavement.

The elderly go through many challenges when they lose their spouse. According to the University of Michigan, it was thought that it was harder to survive the sudden death of the loved one since people start their grieving process when their loved one is suffering from a long term sickness. But it turns out that if their spouse passes away of a sudden death the shock may be easier to overcome, but if the spouse suffered from a long term disease it appears that it is more difficult to survive (Swanbrow, 2001). Some elders become depressed and do not want to continue with their lives and others move on easily. It is a process that they go through to survive the loss of their spouse.

The shock of losing their spouse can negatively affect the widow/widowers mental and physical health. My grandmother became hypertensive and since then she has suffered from insomnia. Some widows/widowers report loss of appetite, palpitations, fatigue and symptoms similar to the ones that their spouse had. Some of these elders might develop illnesses (Osterweis, 1985). Some elderly may start drinking and smoking trying to feel better but all these things just aggravate their problems. Most physical and emotional problems related to the loss of a loved one typically last a while and then disappear (Osterweis, 1985). The elder spouse may grieve for a short period of time while it is a longer process for others and it can even last a lifetime. The first step for the elders to continue with life is accepting that their spouse is gone and looking for help. They may feel like being lonely but it is better if they focus on the support they have from their children, family members and friends. Psychological and social support can help the elder widow/widower survive the loss of their spouse. Cognitive therapy helps them deal with emotions and treat their depression.

When reality hits, things may become harder before they become better. The grieving/bereavement process has stages. The stages are; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Dryden-Edwards). One must go through all of those stages to get to the point where the loss of the spouse does not hurt as much as it did in the beginning. My grandmother went through all those stages, at first she denied that my grandfather was sick and when he passed away she did not want to accept it. She then felt angry that she could not do anything to help him and she felt guilty. The bargaining stage was very painful for her, she is a Catholic, she kept asking God and the saints what did she do wrong that had caused the loss of her spouse. Depression came next and again more physical symptoms along with it. Family support, going to therapies and church helped her overcome depression. One day she woke up and said that it was time to let go of the pain, she was finally accepting that my grandfather was in a better place.

Today my grandmother is a happy woman. She loves to share stories of when she and my grandfather met, that is something that makes her happy. Her children’s support and most of all, her religious beliefs have made her a strong woman. She does have one thing present in her mind all the time; that she will never let go of the memories that she has from my grandfather. Widowhood is a horrible thing that is inevitable but having support from your loved ones will definitely make a difference and might help make the process easier.

 

Works Cited

Dryden-Edwards, R. (n.d.). Grief: Loss of a loved one. Retrieved from http://www.medicinenet.com/loss_grief_and_bereavement/article.htm Osterweis, M. (1985).

Bereavement and the elderly. Retrieved from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1000/is_1985_Jan/ai_3577017/

Swanbrow, D. (2001, April 09). The university record. Retrieved from http://ur.umich.edu/0001/Apr09_01/4.htm

Elder Abuse: A Real Problem

The elderly deserve to be treated with respect and care, but unfortunately the reality for some elders from the US and all over the world is the opposite since they are abused. Elder abuse is defined as “intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver or ‘trusted’ individual that lead to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable elder. Physical abuse; neglect; emotional or psychological abuse; verbal abuse and threats; financial abuse and exploitation; sexual abuse; and abandonment are considered forms of elder abuse. In many states, self‐neglect is also considered mistreatment” (National Center on Elder Abuse [NCEA], 2010). Elder abuse is a real problem, and the saddest part is that it is commonly perpetrated by family members or caregivers, the people who are supposed to be providing care to the victims, not abusing them. Any elder can become a victim since there are no ethnic or cultural barriers and no social-economic statuses when it comes to elder abuse. It has been found that women and older elders are more vulnerable to be abused and that the elderly that suffer from dementia are at a higher risk (NCEA, 2010). It has been estimated that between one and two million older adults ages 65 years and older suffer some kind of abuse each year in the US alone (NCEA, 2005).

There are many kinds of abuse that the elderly are victims of. Some elderly suffer from physical and psychological abuse, neglect, or are financially exploited. According to the Administration on aging, physical abuse occurs when the elderly are intentionally hurt by someone, by inflicting pain or any type of physical injury such as bruises or burns. They may also become victims of sexual abuse which happens whenever it is un-consensual or they are molested. Emotional abuse happens when the elderly suffer from inflicted mental pain; it can be verbal abuse or humiliation, threats of fear and intimidation. Moreover, some elderly suffer from neglect abuse, which happens when the person that is supposedly providing care to them does not provide them food, health care, adequate shelter, not meeting their personal needs or have them live in unsanitary conditions. They may be practically abandoned when they are neglected. The elderly are also vulnerable to being exploited, which is also a kind of abuse. This happens when someone illegally takes their financial assets, property or money. In my family, my grandmother’s brother has been exploited by his own son. He has threatened him when he wants money, and since my uncle is in his late 70’s and suffers from diabetes, he can’t defend himself so other family members have stepped in to stop the abuse. All these types of abuse are serious and should be reported but unfortunately many are kept in silence.

There are hundreds of thousands of older adults worldwide that have been abused once or multiple times. In the US, more than one million Americans 65 years or older have been abused. The exact number is unknown since many of the victims never report that they have been abused (NCEA, 2005). In other developed and developing countries the same story is repeated. Elder adults are abused and most of the times the abuses that they suffer go unreported, making the problem grow. In some countries elder abuse is considered a private matter and the topic is a taboo and it is ignored (World Health Organization, 2011). Here in the US, there are laws in all 50 states that protect the elderly from abuse, but the abuse has to be reported for there to be solutions.  

Elderly abuse is committed in different settings, most commonly at home but it can also happen in nursing homes and other institutions. Many elderly live alone or with family members, so when they are abused, it is common to find that the abuser is a family member or paid caregiver, someone that the elder knows. Abuse can happen in nursing homes too and there have been many stories of elder abuse in these places that get attention but most abuse does not happen here (American Psychological Association). Many elder adults have been victims of abuse in other institutions like clubs or senior day care centers but abuse in these places is less common than abuse at home or nursing homes.

To conclude, elder abuse can happen to anyone. Elders from all socio-economic backgrounds, cultures and races are vulnerable to suffer some type of abuse. The risk is higher for certain groups; women, older elders and elders that suffer from dementia (NCEA, 2010). It may be hard to determine if an elder has been abused and has not reported it. There are many warning signs that can alert one if an elder has been abused. The abused elder’s personality may have changed, and/or they may have withdrawn from many activities and might have physical injuries that would make the abuse obvious. Changes in their financial situation may also indicate some type of exploitation (Administration on Aging, 2009). There are many things that can be done to prevent elder abuse; reporting abuse is the first step and applying the laws that protect the elderly. Keeping in touch with the elderly may help prevent the abuse. I think that people should also be aware of the types of abuse and how to help if they find out that a family member or friend is a victim. It is really sad to hear stories of our elders being abused when they should be loved, respected and taken care of. We can make a difference and stop elder abuse.

 Resources

Administration on aging. (2009, October 08). Retrieved from http://www.aoa.gov/AoA_programs/Elder_Rights/EA_Prevention/whatIsEA.aspx

American psychological association. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.aspx

National center on elder abuse. (2005). Elder abuse prevalence and incidence. Retrieved from http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/pdf/publication/FinalStatistics050331.pdf

NCEA. (2011). Retrieved from National Center on Elder Abuse website: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/index.aspx

World Health Organization. (2011, 04). World health organization. Retrieved from  http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/

 

 

 

           

This entry was posted on April 9, 2012. 1 Comment

The Elderly and the Happiest Years

As the elders age, they go through many physiological and psychological changes. Their skin gets full of wrinkles, their bodies become weaker and saggy, and they may suffer from aches and pain (Bryner, 2010). Remembering things might become harder as well since cognitive changes are present. Some people believe that becoming older adults is depressing. The stereotypes say that being old is the saddest part of life and that the elderly are not capable of doing many things that younger people do. Some people see old age as a negative thing because they believe that it brings loneliness, but this is not true (Tanner, 2008). It has been found that for many elders being a senior is the best and that they are living the happier times of their lives (“Good news for,” 2009). One of the reasons is that the elderly are happy with what they have unlike younger people that focus in what they don’t have and want. The elderly value their accomplishments in life and learn to feel good with what they did in the past. They become more optimistic and realistic than they were before. As the seniors become older, they tend to be happier and more positive.

My grandmother is one of the happiest ladies on earth. She has told me that after all she has been through, being happy is the only option to overcome hard times. Studies have shown that the elderly are happier because as they age, they focus more on their positive memories, not the negative ones (Hsu, 2012). One of the reasons may be that the elderly let go of the past. They live day by day and do not worry about goals anymore. They focus on their well-being. This indicates that the happier that they are, the better they feel.

The cognitive processes in the elderly may be responsible for why they are happier. In a research study, a group of seniors were shown pictures of faces and situations expressing different emotions, both positive and negative. The elderly focused more on the pictures with positive expressions than the negative ones (Hsu, 2012). Cognitive processes also help the elderly with their emotions. In my grandmother’s case, she has decided to forget the painful parts of her past and live life to the fullest because she wants to be happy. She is always smiling and recalling the happy parts of her childhood and when she grew up. She loves talking of how her children were when they were little and what a strong woman she has been all her life. She is optimistic and is satisfied with her life. I can see clearly how she controls her emotions, so learning how to control ones emotions may be a key to being a happy senior. 

To conclude, the elderly become wiser and have reached the maturity which is consistent with happiness (Harms, 2008). All the years have taught them infinite lessons and maybe this makes the happy elderly see life with more enthusiasm. They start focusing on their well-being instead of focusing on goals. The stressful years have passed so they live life with less stress. Unfortunately not everything is perfect and many factors may affect the elderly’s happiness like their social status and the environment where they live but they are still happier than the younger people in their same position (Tanner, 2008). They try to stay away from negativity and try to take the good out from the bad. Some elders that are surrounded by negative people try to stay away from them and look for positive friends. Although the elderly go through hard times in life such as losing friends and family members they tend to be more optimistic and move on from grief. So aging is not bad after all and with age comes happiness as Lindsey Tanner states, “It turns out the golden years really are golden.”  
                          

Works Cited

Bryner, J. (2010, April 04). Live science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/6274-age-bring-happiness-despair.html

Cox, H. (2011). Annual editions: Aging 11/12. (24th ed., p. 37). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin.

Good news for elderly: Happiness keeps growing. (2009, August 13). Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2009/08/13/good-news-for-elderly-happiness-keeps-growing

Harms, W. (2008, April 16). Uchicago news. Retrieved from http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2008/04/16/age-comes-happiness-university-chicago-study-shows

Hsu, C. (2012, January 09). Medical daily. Retrieved from

http://www.medicaldaily.com/news/20120109/8651/seniors-elder-elderly-happiness-cognitive-processes-cognition-well-being-goals-aging-disapp.htm

Tanner, L. (2008, April 18). Usa today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2008-04-18-older-happier-americans_N.htm

 

 

 

 

           

 

This entry was posted on March 12, 2012. 2 Comments

Seniors with Pets: the Benefits

 It has been found that seniors who own pets visit their doctors 21% less frequently than those who don’t own a pet, according to The Pets for the Elderly Foundation. One of the many benefits that having a pet bring to the elders is that they keep them busy and active; and they also give them a sense of autonomy. Pets provide them company, unconditional love, and opportunities to socialize more. Any type of pet can be great such as; dogs, cats, fish, birds, etc (Sharnak, 2012). They all have the capacity to fulfill the lives of their owners and motivate them. Choosing the right pet is essential since they have to be taken care of, and bring a lot of responsibilities with them. If the elders are capable of providing the care and the things that the pet needs, then pets can be great companions for them. Seniors that own pets, especially dogs and cats, have been found to live longer lives. Owning a pet has great benefits for the elderly since pets provide great comfort that helps both their psychological and physical health.

When the seniors live alone, having a pet as a companion is great; pets become part of their family. Living alone can bring a lot of health and mental problems to the seniors. They suffer more from depression, stress and health problems and they lack of exercise. Owning a pet can make a big difference in their lives. Pets will keep them company, help reduce their stress and provide them a better sense of well-being (University of California, 2010). Seniors that own pets report that they feel less lonely, that their pets help them go through tough stressful times and that the feeling of responsibility towards their pets makes them feel better. They also have a sense of safety and security because they know that they are not alone. Pets offer unconditional love to them and they can be fun and entertaining as well, passing on positive vibes to their owners. They bring joy into the lives of the elderly helping them live healthier and happier lives.

Moreover, pets provide emotional comfort and motivation. Seniors that own pets are more likely to have active lifestyles and to interact more with other people (Sharnak, 2012). Pets require care, so the elderly have to provide that care and feed them and also make sure that they are fine. If the pet is a dog he needs to be walked and this is good opportunity for the senior to exercise. Their chance of interacting with other people increases as well and they can make new friends because of their pets (Davis, 2004). Cats are great pets for some seniors because they require less physical activity. Fish, birds and small pets are good to provide company and they help the seniors relieve stress. All this leads to better mental health and mental stimulation. Serotonin and dopamine levels are increased making the senior feel positive because of the activity in their brain (Robinson & Segal, 2011).

To conclude, there are a lot of physical health benefits that pets provide. Clinical studies have shown that senior pet owners have lower blood pressure; this can be attributed to their increased physical activity such as walking the dog. Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels have also been found and resilience; increased immunity to disease (Davis, 2004). Some pets are also therapeutic and help improve the overall health. All the health benefits that pets provide are related to why owning a pet can help senior live longer lives. Pets also bring purpose to the elderly so they tend to focus more on themselves because they want to feel good to be able to take care of their loyal companions. Pets are great and they will always be there for them, they are the best company.

References:

Davis, J. (2004). Web md. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/features/health-benefits-of-pets

Robinson, L., & Segal, J. (2011, June). The thereputic benefits of pets. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/life/pets.htm

Sharnak, B. (2012). Everyday health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/pet-health/pets-for-the-elderly.aspx

University of California. (2010). Companion animal behavior program. Retrieved from http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/CCAB/elderly.htm

 

This entry was posted on March 4, 2012. 2 Comments

Caring for the Elderly

It has been estimated that in the next three decades the number of seniors 65 years and older will have quadrupled. The first baby boomers turned 65 years old in 2011 and in the next 30 years the youngest baby boomers will all be over 65 years old. There will be over 54 million Americans aged 65 or older In the United States alone (Cox, 2011). Not only will the elderly form a great part of the population, but this also means that the elders are living more, with their life expectancy increasing. Families now have fewer members in the new generations but with more generations alive (Cox, 2011). With the senior population growing we need to think about providing care to them since many of us will do that someday. 

 The elderly play a great role in our lives and in our families and vice versa. I can say this for sure, having a 100 year old great grandmother and my two wonderful grandmothers ages 77 and 85 (whom I love so much). My grandmothers still try to be independent but they really need help. I believe that families are the best care providers for the elderly. My 85 year old grandmother takes care of her mother, my 100 year old great grandmother, but she needs to be cared for too because of health issues. Moreover, my 77 year old grandmother lived in a small farm outside the city but now she has moved to an aunt’s house since she didn’t have anyone to live with her at the farm and she suffered an accident when she was living alone. These stories are repeated thousands of times.

It has been found that nearly 82 percent of family members provide some type of care for their elders (UCSF). The primary care is provided by their spouse or children (mostly daughters) as well as other relatives and/or friends. Both my grandmothers are widows so their care is provided by their children and grandchildren. It is more common to see women providing the primary care for the elders (wives, daughters, granddaughters, sisters, daughters in law, etc). They provide their personal care, baths, help them get dressed, cook, go with them to their doctors’ appointments and give them medicine plus more. Men provide help by driving them to their destinations and with home repairs and heavy jobs. Children and pets are also in the picture, they provide company to the elderly and happiness.

There are so many advantages in caring for the elderly. First, if the elders live with someone at home they feel less lonely and their depression rates are lower. Second, when elders are sick or suffer accidents they get help faster than if they were alone. Falls are common in the elderly, for example, when these accidents cause fractured or broken bones the elders aren’t able to get up to call for help so if someone is caring for them the outcome is better and death is less likely to occur. In the US about one third of seniors age 65 or older fall each year (Centre for Disease Control, 2011), or suffer other accidents like burns and traumas. They definitely need help, and being cared for will contribute to a better quality of life.

Unfortunately not all the elderly have family or friends to provide care for them. Some elders have secondary care providers part-time or full-time. When the elders don’t have family to take care of them, there are other options. These include; nurses that provide care at the elders’ homes, nursing homes, group living facilities, and other institutions for the elder.  It has been observed that fewer seniors are now living in long term care facilities because more families and friends are now taking this role. Today, less than five percent of the elderly are living in institutions (US Census, 2010). Caring for the elderly is not easy and it is expensive but it is worth it. We don’t all have the necessary resources but there is help out there and options for our elders to have the care that they deserve. To conclude, it is good to remember that one day we will age and we will need some care too.  

Resources

 Centre for Disease Control. (2011, September 16). Falls among older adults: An overview. Retrieved from   http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adultfalls.html

Cox, H. (2011). Annual editions: Aging 11/12. (24th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw   
 Hill/Dushkin.

University of california, san francisco, human resources. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ucsfhr.ucsf.edu/index.php/assist/article/elderly-caregiving-choices-challenges-and-resources-for-the-family/

US Census (2010). Retrieved from website: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb10-ff06.html