Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/13 2016

Alzheimer’s and Counseling

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Alzheimer's disease and counselingIt’s tax time. Insert audible groan here. Even with tools like Turbo Tax, Tax Act, and all the rest, successfully filing your taxes can be a major headache. As is the tradition each year, my mom and I sat down together to work on my taxes one recent Saturday. I’m pretty sure I only raised my voice in frustration once and she only gave me “that look” a few times. Some mothers and daughters bond over shopping in Pittsburgh. We bond over our frustration with technology at tax time.

While calculating my deductions, my mom noted that I supported the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s not a big check, but I write it faithfully every year. “Are you hoping they find a cure before I need it?” she half joked. I answered back, “At least before I need it.”

Today more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s. And while I’ve never personally been affected by the disease, I fear the day a loved one is among the 5 million. How would I help her? How would I handle her care? What will be the medical treatments by then? How would I care for myself while caring for her? If I’m the one affected, how would I want to be treated? Should I seek help from a pastor? A social worker? A counselor? Hopefully those advancements in research and treatment come soon and we see the day that we no longer need Alzheimer’s support groups.

Until then, I’m grateful for people like Dr. Lisa Genova, who holds degrees in biopsychology and neuroscience. Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction, she is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels Still Alice, Left Neglected, Love Anthony, and Inside the O’Briens. She says, “Stories are a way into people’s hearts, and when this happens, we have more than knowledge. We have real understanding, empathy, sensitivity, the ability to be better caregivers, and maybe the motivation to get involved.”

In the book-turned-movie Still Alice, (Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Alice), Genova tells the story of Dr. Alice Howland, a renowned linguistics professor (a detail that’s different in the book). When words begin to escape her and she starts becoming lost on her daily jogs, Alice must come face to face with a devastating diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Genova takes a complex neurological disease—and one of my biggest fears—and turns it into a heartbreaking and inspiring story.

Lisa Genova will be at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary June 16. During that time she’ll discuss Alzheimer’s and her latest books. This event—including lecture, Q&A, and book signing—is a great opportunity for health care providers, social workers and pastoral counselors, family and friends of those suffering from the disease, and book clubs to join the conversation. Group rates are available. Learn more about “Understanding Alzheimer’s: A Conversation with Dr. Lisa Genova.

For the last decade plus, Melissa Logan has worked as the director of communications at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. When not updating the Seminary’s website or tweeting about the MDiv/MSW degree, she’s likely hunting for treasures at flea markets or hanging out with her furry friends.


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