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Kasey Burge, Pharm.D. Candidate 2016
Sullivan University College of Pharmacy
Louisville, KY

Amber Riesselman, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCPP
Assistant Professor of Clinical and Administrative Sciences
Sullivan University College of Pharmacy
Louisville, KY

Student Perspective and Review

Still Alice is an enlightening movie which explores the harsh reality of a person from both the physical and emotional effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Julianne Moore plays the role of Alice who is an acclaimed linguistics professor at Columbia University. The story starts off with Alice celebrating her 50th birthday with her successful scientist husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children. She seems to have everything; she is brilliant, well-educated, financially successful, and beloved by her family and colleagues.

As the story progresses, Alice begins experiencing growing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At first she brushes the symptoms off as being absent-minded.  Eventually, the symptoms of forgetting words, names, appointments and locations lead her to seek medical treatment from a neurologist. Alice is diagnosed with an inherited, rare case of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alice tells her husband and children of her condition. She also conveys to her children that each of them have a 50 percent risk of having inherited a dominant gene for the disease and can be tested to determine if they are also carriers. Her oldest daughter and son get tested, but the youngest daughter chooses not to know. 

During the early stages of the disease, Alice utilizes innovative techniques to maintain functionality within her daily life. She eventually cannot work, sometimes needs the help of others to complete daily tasks, and struggles even to recognize her daughters at various points in the film. Alice loses sense of the present as she thinks she is a child and believes she is living in the past with her sister and mother which were killed in an automobile accident when Alice was 16.

Her husband takes a job at Mayo Clinic out of state as he struggles emotionally with Alice’s decline and the reality of their future. At the end of the movie, she has lost much of her ability to communicate and needs 24/7 care which her youngest daughter courageously provides. Her other children go on with their lives as they cannot deal with the emotional pain of seeing their mother slip away. 

This movie excellently portrays the psychological and emotional torment from the patient’s point of view. During the movie, Alice states that Alzheimer’s makes it feel like her brain is dying and everything in her life is going with it. She gives a speech at an Alzheimer’s conference highlighting the cruel reality of losing one’s memories and with it one’s own identity. She highlights the stigma of Alzheimer’s disease as society only empathizes with diseases which they can physically see or understand. Most think of Alzheimer’s as a disease affecting only those that are elderly which makes Alice’s condition more difficult for her family, friends, and colleagues to accept.Another misconception is thinking of Alzheimer’s as a disease which only affects one’s cognitive abilities. The effects of Alzheimer’s are much more than cognitive; as brain cells die symptoms may include loss of speech, bodily functions, mobility, swallowing, and eventually breathing.

To Alice dying from this disease is not what frightens her. The frightening part to her is losing everything from one’s memories, experiences and personality that make you who you are. Alzheimer’s disease is a cruel illness affecting the patient and their family which this movie accurately portrays.

Faculty Perspective and Review

“Linguistics”- the scientific study of language and its structure.

Imagine leading a life centered around this field only to be diagnosed with a disorder that rips it all away from you. This is the story of Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) in the movie Still Alice, based on the book by author Lisa Genova.

Alice is a linguistics professor at Columbia University and leads a fulfilling life in New York City. She is a nationally acclaimed educator that travels to deliver lectures, has authored a book in her area of practice and is married with three grown children. At age 50, Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Early on in the film, she begins noticing some symptoms of memory impairment and the first major sign is when she gets lost on campus while going for a routine run. Alice takes a practical approach and makes an appointment with a neurologist for testing.

This movie features many of the difficulties that surround leading a life with Alzheimer’s disease. Upon official diagnosis, Alice learns she has familial Alzheimer’s disease and may have passed the causative genes on to her children. Her children then face the difficult decision of whether or not to get tested and learn what difficult path may lie ahead. In addition, it is evident that Alice’s struggles lead to depressive symptoms as she develops a suicide plan to carry out once her memory significantly fades. In one powerful scene, Alice states “I wish I had cancer.” She describes feelings of shame when people pity her cognitive decline and would much rather feel the love and support people show by “wearing pink ribbons and running races for you.”

This story portrays many of the physical and mental difficulties an individual and her family could realistically experience when confronted with this disease. While Alice loses the ability to perform many functions, it is clear in the end – her love for language is not lost.  

The Alzheimer’s Association supports the message behind this movie and has partnered with some of the women behind Still Alice to “wipe out Alzheimer’s.” More information can be found here:

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