When Words Don’t Come

“Still Alice” captures the dramatic nature of dementia in its recent release in theaters. Julianne Moore gracefully depicts the real-life trauma of forgetting and the unfortunate shame that accompanies that circumstance.

If years lend us the opportunity to grow older, most of us will gradually meet this tragic and startling experience head on.

As a patient advocate for encephalitis, I often have the opportunity to speak to doctors, nurses, caregivers and survivors about this illness — diagnosing it, treating it, living with it, caring for it and understanding its dramatic change in a person’s identity.

The difference between “Alice” and encephalitis patients is that it’s not gradual: it’s overnight. At only 38, my short-term memory was shot overnight due to encephalitis, a brain injury. And in these times of fortune when I find myself on stage to educate, words vanish. Even concepts.

Maybe it makes it real for thevanish audience. That this seemingly-has-it-together professional actually faces hurdles. For me, though, it’s a frightening experience. The closer I try to get to the word, the farther it gets. The feeling is that I’m being robbed of my credibility.

Regardless of how a person arrived at being “forgetful,” think about these things when words don’t come:

  1. We are reduced to humility when words vacate our minds. Be gentle.
  2. Please, please, please refrain from saying, “happens to me all the time.” This is unintentionally dismissive.
  3. Unless the memory-challenged person requests help filling in blanks, give us time or wait for us to ask for assistance. Suggesting words might actually take us farther from our original intention.

For directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, well done on unveiling the realities of memory issues in all their colors – harsh, tender, brave and even comical.

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