Julian Moore takes on a role of ‘Alice Howland, a brilliant neurolinguistics professor at Columbia University who was given the tragic diagnosis of having a neurocognitive disorder, also known as familial, early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Which is one of the rarer forms of Alzheimer’s. From this point onwards life as we know, it changed for Alice and her family.A neurocognitive disorder refers to a decline in the cognitive ability that restricts individual’s independence.
Alice’s symptoms start getting more prominent during her birthday celebrations. She had a delay in her thought process while delivering a toast to her family. At the time there wasn’t much to think of it, however just shortly after she had another episode, while she delivered a speech at UCLA. The turning point of her sudden creeping forgetfulness was when she went for a daily jog through the campus where she had taught for years.
She found herself unable to recognize her environment and was suddenly swallowed by a wave of utter confusion and helplessness. She then realized something was wrong and sought medical consultation. This movie elicits issues individuals with Alzheimer’s are left to face every day and the continuous struggle to maintain one’s lifestyle, remembering names and dates of people closest o you. The movie depicts how Alzheimer started to affect Alice’s vibrant nature, her self-esteem and confidence. The film beautifully captured how she struggled to fight to continue living as best as she could. Being an independent woman, Alice slowly loses her sense of autonomy that she cherished most.
Her inability to make everyday choices and having everything she held near and dear to her such as her intellect and educational contributions being ripped away. As her mind started drifting apart, her loved ones witnessed firsthand how she began to lose the person she once was. Shortly after the revelation of her disease, Alice visited a facility.
This facility had constructed a model to support and benefit patients like herself. They provide their patients with the freedom of movement and choices according to their cognitive capabilities. The facility is also flexible with their visiting hours and gives access to visitors to visit their loved ones at any given time. Patients were also provided with seat alarms, which would send a signal to the staff as they got up, to ensure their safety and provide aid if was needed. While there is no real cure or medication to slow the progression, Antidepressants, and drugs are available that assist in treating memory loss. Continuing psychotherapy and psychosocial support are always recommended to provide support for patients and their families.
Symptoms of both mild and major neurocognitive disorders are quite similar depending on the level of functioning affected by the individual, based on that it is categorized as mild or severe. Symptoms according to the DSM 5 a deterioration in cognitive skills such as being unable to plan, difficulty paying attention towards tasks. Struggling to remember names and people, as well as a rapid decline in the ability to behave in socially accepted ways. In other words, individuals exhibit cognitive deficits that interfere with everyday decision-making abilities.
The causes of Neurocognitive disorders are not due to developmental conditions. They are however caused by brain damage in areas that affect learning and memory, the ability to use and recognize language, hand and motor coordination, the capability to act within social norms such as dressing correctly for the weather, and decision making processes.As Alice begins to lose her intellectual capabilities, we see struggle in coping with the effects of the disorder. This journey Alice entails upon shifts toward a very reflective one and starts an emotional reconnection with her family.Alice’s way of strategizing her mental deterioration was by planning a questionnaire on her phone, that listed questions of her daughter’s names, and their birth month, that she had to answer daily every morning. At any point where she becomes incoherent and fails to respond correctly, she self-directed her self to follow specific steps. She created a video for her future self with directions on where the pills would be, and how the process of her ‘suicide’ should go.
She mentions not to disclose this information to anyone Alice was a vibrant, determined, enterprising person who was always on the move, excited for the next chapter in her life, whether it entailed teaching, writing books, or preparing meals for her family. However, everything changed and came to a still as time progressed due to her condition. In this sense, she no longer moves, no longer makes a sound, no longer can use her mind. She just exists like an empty vessel. And that Still Alice is one that Professor Howland was most afraid of becoming, which prompted her to create that video. Most individuals who have Alzheimer’s often undergo the same battle of survival and the struggle of choice whether it is choosing just to live or even die.
Depression, loneliness, a sense of shame and loss starts to take over. At one point, Alice wished she had cancer instead so that she wouldn’t feel so ashamed. These behaviors are a natural response from many patients living with Alzheimer.
Once Alice’s memory was compromised, so was her intellectual capacity; which she thrived on, losing that was like stripping her away of her identity, everything that made her Alice Howland.This movie raises queries of how the sacrifices a family should or shouldn’t make for one of their members, especially when those choices would initially be in line with values that Alice herself held. The film also prompts empathy and understanding through the lens of a patient and the challenges both patients and families endures while also maintain a equilibrium between protecting someone and making the most of their freedom.
“There is an art to losing, and you need to master it. I’m losing my memories, my abilities, my happiness – and one day I will lose being me.”