Still Alice and the Hidden Tolls of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

still_aliceIn Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays a college professor struggling with her diagnosis of a genetic form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Moore has already won two awards, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award, and is now nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

While her performance is clearly nothing short of noteworthy, the biggest takeaway from this film in the increase in awareness of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly early-onset. Still Alice has gained a reputation as an outlet for highlighting the “hidden tolls” and its “shockingly accurate” depiction of this neurodegenerative condition.

With this in mind, Penn Medicine’s Steven E. Arnold, MD, director of the Penn Memory Center, sat down with us to weigh in on the topic with his expert opinion.

Spoiler Alert: This video may contain spoilers for Still Alice.

The Penn Memory Center is a National Institute on Aging-designated Alzheimer’s Disease Center (ADC). Their team consists of board-certified, experienced physicians specializing in cognitive neurology, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric medicine, and clinical professionals from disciplines including neuropsychology, psychometrics, nursing, psychotherapy, social work, and research management. They provide clinical care including evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and research opportunities for patients experiencing symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment and related disorders, as well as providing support and resources to caregivers and family members.

For more information on the Penn Memory Center, visit:

Find more facts on the hidden tolls of Alzheimer’s disease that are highlighted in Still Alice, in the related NY Daily News article here.


Debunking the Common Myths of Aging ft. Sarah H. Kagan, PhD, RN

DrKaganBlogPicAccording to Sarah H. Kagan, PhD, RN, the idea of aging is not simply to live longer, but to live happier and healthier as well. As a Lucy Walker Honorary Term Professor of Gerontological Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, her goal is to help the aging community to do just that.

During her recent presentation on “Debunking the Common Myths of Aging” at a lunchtime workshop offered to Penn faculty and staff, Dr. Kagan explained that one way to live longer, happier, and healthier lives is to change the way that we think about aging. We must discredit the stigma that our age defines who we are, how we act, and what we are capable of. There is a common misconception that “the older you get the more invisible you get,” however, this notion is quickly taking a positive turn for older Americans in this recent longevity revolution. With the still-evolving science around what is “normal aging,” we are finding that many conditions and behaviors that we associate with getting older may actually be epigenetic diseases rather than aging-related diseases.

Epigenetic diseases are those that are influenced by a variety of non-genetic factors such as geographic location, personal habits, and other environmental factors. For example, an individual does not necessarily lose their ability to hear simply because of their age, but rather due to a variety or combination of other factors in their life such as frequent attendance at rock concerts or years of working around heavy machinery. Aging also often takes all of the stereotypical blame for wrinkles and grey hair when the true culprits such as UV exposure and a variety of genetic factors actually play major roles in these physical changes.

Dr. Kagan also explained how ageism, the stereotyping of individuals based on their age, is the same as any other form of discrimination. Not every senior becomes frail, experiences memory loss or needs a caregiver but society often forgets that. However, it is not only the younger generations that are guilty of this. Self-stereotyping is a huge issue as well. Older individuals need to stray away from the “I’m too old for that” mindset. After all, an individual’s aging experience is significantly influenced by how they think about it.


With that said, Dr. Kagam shared that for the most part, the aging community is actually a generally happy on despite the “old and grumpy” stereotype. She explained it as a “U-shaped curve.” Our level of happiness is very high at a young age, decreases around midlife, and increases again as we enter the “last half” of our lives. This level of happiness tends to be higher in those who maintain healthy social relationships, and at a population level, those with closer relationships tend to live longer.

Find more information on Dr. Kagan here.

Follow Dr. Kagan on Twitter here.


2014 Vincent J. Cristofalo Annual Lectureship ft. Alfred L. Goldberg, PhD

GoldbergCircleOn Wednesday, February 4, 2015, the Institute on Aging hosted its 2014 Vincent J. Cristofalo Annual Lectureship (originally scheduled for December 11, 2014). This year’s keynote speaker was Alfred L. Goldberg, PhD, professor of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School. During his lecture on “New Insights into Proteasome Function: From Destroying Misfolded Proteins to Disease Therapy,” Dr. Goldberg discussed his lab’s new advances in the elimination of damaged proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, as well as the new developments that suggest new approaches to treating such diseases.

The lectureship began with a tribute to Dr. Vincent J. Cristofalo, a pioneer in aging research and the founder of the Center for the Study of Aging (now the IOA) at the University of Pennsylvania, by Robert J. Pignolo, MD, PhD, associate profess of medicine, Division of Geriatric Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Presbyterian Medical Center of Philadelphia. Immediately following the lecture and Q&A session, guests were invited to stay and enjoy light refreshments at the lectureship’s reception.


“This annual tribute to Vincent J. Cristofalo is to acknowledge in perpetuity his contributions to aging research, his critical scientific thinking, as well as his commitment to mentees, colleagues, friends, and family.” – Robert J. Pignolo, MD, PhD

View more photos from the event here.

Learn more about the IOA’s Vincent J. Cristofalo Annual Lectureship here.