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33. Dementia as a Neutral Circumstance



Still Alice


I’ve never been one for horror movies but I remember watching “Still Alice” and getting that same sense of dread yet fascination where you can’t tear yourself away. The beautiful and brilliant Julianne Moore acts out the story of this Columbia professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s disease (AD).


She sets up systems for herself to cope with memory loss. She even decides early on that she must end her own life in order not to be a burden to her family, so she stashes away a bottle of sleeping pills and records a video telling her future self exactly how to commit suicide using those pills.


Future Alice is going along in her day, having completely forgotten about the video and pills, when she happens upon a message to herself and begins to watch the video. Her disease is far enough along by then then she struggles to follow the video instructions for how to find the bottle of pills, having to go back to watch it several times.



I remember desperately wanting her to succeed, and agonizing over the failed attempt when she finally finds the pills but is distracted by the arrival of the housekeeper, and forgets about the video forever. I realize now that I identified so completely with Alice that I believed my husband would abandon me and that my adult children would be left to sacrifice their lives to care for me.


Denying destiny


Indeed AD is devastating to individuals as well as families as it insidiously robs us of our identities, our autonomy, ourselves. We not only begin to lose our memories but our ability to plan simple tasks like cooking a meal or finding our way to the store. Personality changes often reflect the natural human emotions of depression, anxiety, anger, and fear as we realize what is happening to us.


Dementia wrecks me, plain and simple.

For the longest time I have deflected the horror and dread of AD by telling myself that brain science is above my pay grade as a lowly general internist. I’m obviously just not smart enough to figure this stuff out - I can only help by supporting family members on the sidelines. After all there was nothing to be done - no drug or treatment that was broadly effective.


Limiting beliefs


The funny thing is that I wasn’t even aware of these thoughts or feelings until I tried to sit down to write the Optimal Brain Performance (OBP): 14K DIY Dementia Prevention course. Of course I wanted to focus my health and wellness coaching on brain health when I saw how strong the science was behind AD prevention. But I never realized that I had these limiting beliefs about myself to work through.


Beliefs like:

  • Who am I to teach midlife women how to prevent AD?

  • I’m no expert when it comes to neuroscience.

  • I’m not even sure these practices will work for myself.

  • What if I’m destined to be like Alice no matter what I do?


That’s when I realized that this is exactly what I’m meant to do with my life. The horror, terror, agony, and devastation were actually why I absolutely needed to go there. Dementia wrecks me, plain and simple.



Embracing destiny


My new beliefs are:

  • Who better to show others to work through their limiting beliefs as I’ve done?

  • It doesn’t take an expert in neuroscience - healthy lifestyle choices fit exactly into my integrative medicine and wellness coaching expertise.

  • I’m absolutely certain that I can improve my odds for preventing/delaying dementia, and I’ll take that over passively waiting to see what happens.

  • Still Alice was a movie about a very rare form of early onset AD intended to highlight the drama/worse-case scenario story. As a doctor I see these kinds of tearjerker movies all the time about cancer or whatever other conditions.

  • There’s definitely no way I’ll end up like Alice, and even better I’m going to help as many women as possible avoid having their stories turn out like that.


There is a passion now that fuels my resourcefulness, creativity and courage to figure this out for myself and others. The fears still sometimes show up, but I’ve learned to embrace them and let them be there. Because they are my best teachers and they will help me to help others.






Resources


Still Alice (2014) film based on Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel. Stars Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin.

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