October 24, 2017

"Still Alice" and an XPRIZE for Alzheimer's - Author Lisa Genova

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The guest on October’s Alzheimer’s Talks was Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist and author whose work explores what it is like to live with neurological diseases and disorders. Her bestselling books include Still Alice, Inside the O’Briens, Left Neglected, and Love Anthony. Still Alice, about a Harvard professor with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, became a highly acclaimed movie.

Lisa Genova talked with George Vradenburg about how she did the research for Still Alice, and how acting and improv classes helped her learn how to truly have empathy for people with Alzheimer’s disease. She also discussed her role as a member of the Alzheimer’s team that recently won the top honors at the XPRIZE Visioneers Summit.

CLICK THE PLAY BUTTON AT LEFT TO HEAR THE DISCUSSION.

A few key highlights from the talk:

How can you stay connected?

Lisa Genova offered tips that she learned from improv acting classes, that help her have empathy and stay connected to people with Alzheimer’s. For example, join them in their reality. Imagine what it’s like to always be corrected or denied. Instead of correcting or negating, say, “Yes, and” to someone with Alzheimer’s. They will remember how you made them feel.

“What we really want while we’re waiting for a cure is some way to stay connected to our loved ones who have Alzheimer’s, to continue to have a meaningful relationship with them . . . to continue to have connections.”

Early diagnosis is important

There is relief in knowing and understanding what is going on. And while there is currently no treatment or cure, there are things you can do to slow the progression, both through medicine and through lifestyle—diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management. Also, a diagnosis will push you to plan for the future with your family, financially and emotionally.

What’s wrong with the current research process?

The structure of how research is funded in academia slows the research process and does not encourage collaboration. The same is true in industry, where it costs over a billion dollars and twelve years to get a drug through clinical trials, so they tend to focus on one drug at a time and do not share study results. Consequently, one company could be testing a drug that has already failed for another company.

How will the XPRIZE help?

The Alzheimer’s Team, which includes Lisa Genova and George Vradenburg, received top honors at the XPRIZE Visioneers Summit. They are now working on the exact competition, with a cash prize for a way to detect the presence of the disease before symptoms occur. Anyone from any discipline can enter; the focus is on identification of Alzheimer’s early enough to intervene.

Thank you to Lisa Genova for talking with us about her work, her writing process, and the XPRIZE. You can also read a full transcript of the conversation