'The Genius of Marian' Must-See Video on Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I have a homework assignment for you to do in the next month. I encourage you to stream the video of the POV documentary, “The Genius of Marian.” This film aired earlier this week on PBS, but it will remain online through October 8, 2014.

    The name of the movie is somewhat deceptive. The Marian in the title is Marian Williams Steele, who had Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2001. Steele, who was born in 1912, was a noted artist who won numerous awards for her paintings, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Cresson Traveling Scholarship to Europe 1936, the Charles Tappan Prize and the Composition Prize, among others. She worked in oil paints and watercolors and her subjects often were the human figure, landscapes and marinescapes. Marian primary lived and worked in Massachusetts.

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    While Marian is mentioned in the movie, it turns out that the title of the movie is actually the name of a book that her daughter, Pam White, had intentions of writing after her mother died. However, that hasn’t happened since Pam herself was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 61.

    The movie starts near the time when Pam was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009 and continues through 2012. Made by Pam’s son, Banker White and filmmaker Anna Fitch, the movie captures conversations that the family members and friends have with Pam. You meet Pam’s husband, Ed White, as well as her two other adult children, Devon White Angelini and Luke White. Banker takes extra care to offer additional information about his grandmother as well as more about his mother’s background (which includes growing up in a hotel and becoming an actress and model).

    And the heart of the show is definitely Pam, who has a dazzling smile and displays, for the most part, both intelligence and charm in dealing with her disease. “Initially I was quite distressed and upset,” Pam White tells her son about her diagnosis. “But it really doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t change anything. So I don’t feel sad and I don’t feel regret. I feel blessed that I have this wonderful family and a husband who is extraordinarily wonderful.”

    Yet, according to the film, there have been profound changes. Pam is unable to do much around the house. She’s become combative and was described at one point as attacking her husband. She stubbornly tries to avoid taking medications. She shuffles slowly and has trouble going out shopping. Family members have started reporting that she is having difficulty recognizing them. And you see the ways that the family has changed as well. For instance, you see Ed waking her up, assisting her in getting out of bed and helping her with her morning routine.

    Another cool part of this documentary is that medical professionals can receive continuing medical education credits through Saint Louis University School of Medicine for watching this documentary. Four learning objectives have been identified:

    • Awareness of how the stigma of having Alzheimer’s disease can affect the person with the disease and the family who is dealing with the condition.
    • Awareness of the complexities that caregivers face when dealing with challenging behaviors caused by Alzheimer’s and the challenge of caring for a person 24/7.
    • Identifying outlets for creativity and expression that people with Alzheimer’s can tap into.
    • Identifying resources that can provide support to the caregiver in managing day-to-day care while also protecting their own health and well-being.

    I found this show to be a reminder of the humanity of the caregiving process in the wake of a devastating diagnosis of a loved one.  “I have made a commitment to this beautiful woman that I will live with her forever,” Ed says.  “So whatever happens, we’re definitely doing it together.”

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

  • AskArtcom. (ND). Marian Williams Steele.

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    PBS.org. (2014). The genius of Marian. POV.

Published On: September 10, 2014