Alzheimer's Project Shares Important Stories of Those with Alzheimer's, Caregivers and Grandchildren
During the past few evenings, I’ve watched three segments of the Alzheimer Project’s documentary, specifically the films focusing on the people with Alzheimer’s, their caretakers, and their grandchildren. (Thanks to HBO for streaming these videos over their website.) As I watched the stories unfurl, I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I saw and heard things that reflected my family’s experiences. Yet, I found also that vast differences caused by dealing with this disease were displayed just as eloquently. The documentary also reminded me how this disease impacts each individual differently.
I was especially struck by the following stories since these reminded me of my own experiences:
- The woman with Alzheimer’s disease who was worried about losing the privilege of driving reminded me greatly of my mother (and I believe this situation probably resonates with many loved ones who have Alzheimer’s as well as their caregivers). I found it was tremendously scary watching the woman in the documentary not being able to identify the meaning of different traffic signs when shown pictures. And I was gripping the chair’s arms as the documentary crew followed the woman as she got behind the wheel of a car to take the driving portion of a driving test and immediately couldn’t figure out how to put the car into reverse. I held my breath while watching her unsuccessfully follow her passenger’s verbal driving directions on a well-travelled road. This segment gave me a window into how my mother might have been driving prior to entering the nursing home and made me thankful that no one was injured while she was driving. And in the documentary, the follow-up meeting during which the woman was told she couldn’t drive was heart-breaking – her defeated response that she had just lost her independence reminded me so much of my mother.
- A portion of the segment about grandchildren resonated with me as the daughter of a parent with Alzheimer’s. In the documentary, the grandmother gruffly told her young granddaughter to leave. You could see the tremendous pain in the child’s eyes upon hearing her grandmother’s sharp words. (Even as adults, my brother and I both experienced Mom uncharacteristically saying mean things to us when she had the Alzheimer’s and her words brought both of us to tears.) The documentary also showed an interaction between the granddaughter who had been the victim of the verbal barb and her older sister. The older sister wisely told her younger sibling that she needed to realize that was the disease talking, not her grandmother. I was amazed that one so young could understand this concept and share that wisdom on how to deal with a loved one with Alzheimer’s because it took me awhile to learn this as an adult.
- In the caregiver video, I felt a common bond with the wife who wanted to calm her husband, who was in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. The husband, who during his professional career had been featured on a television show, was worried that he was going to be late for videotaping of a program. The wife used her cell phone to call the home phone line. Calmly, she picked up and answered the home phone as if it was a real call and began carrying on a conversation as if someone from the studio was on the other line. Upon finishing the mock conversation, she hung up and told her husband that the videotaping of program was being delayed because someone was sick. Her husband visibly relaxed and became less agitated upon hearing this news. In watching her use this tactic, I remembered how often I used a similar tactic to help Mom stop obsessing about a situation that was a figment of her imagination.
And yet, as I watched the Alzheimer’s Project documentary, there were so many ways I learned other challenges that Alzheimer’s brings that I never experienced. Take the caregiver who innocently handed her mother a rock while they were walking on their rural driveway only to see her mother place the rock into her mouth. Then there was the caregiver who gracefully handled the seemingly platonic romance between her husband (who was in an Alzheimer’s facility) and another resident. Though difficult to watch, each of these stories shared a reality about the impact of Alzheimer’s. And that's why HealthCentral's website for Alzheimer's is so important because it gives each of us the chance to share our own experiences with this disease.
In closing, I want to thank each person who was featured, whether a caregiver, a grandchild or a person who had the disease. They were willing to open up their lives and share what they were going through with viewers. This service, hopefully, will increase the understanding and dialogue about Alzheimer’s, as well as the national resolve to find a cure to this terrible disease.