Sunday, 17 May 2015

Extreme Love: Dementia

I recently watched a Louis Theroux documentary from 2012 that explores the reality of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia; or more specifically Alzheimer's Disease. The documentary is part of a two part series focusing on extreme situations for families and relationships, the other of which looks at autism.

Dementia is a type of brain disease that causes forgetfulness and a progressive loss in cognitive function. Alzheimer's is the most common form of Dementia and its prevalence amongst the population greatly increases with age. It is expected that 1 in 8 Americans over the age of 65 live with the disease. With our current ageing population this also means that the problem of caring for those with the disease has become a larger burden. Over the progression of the disease, the brain regresses the opposite way to how we pick up knowledge as a child - the most basic functions and memories are kept until near the end.

Areas of the brain that Dementia (and Alzheimer's) affect
In the documentary Louis travels to Phoenix, Arizona, which is a place a huge number of retirees move to, and therefore has a higher population of elderly than the national average. He visits a care home called Beatitude, which appears to be the most popular choice amongst elderly sufferers in the area and consists of two different floors for those suffering with Alzheimer's, each floor for different severities of the disease.

I found this documentary particularly interesting as it was entirely different from any knowledge of Alzheimer's I had gained through lectures or tutorials at university. My grandfather also suffered from the disease but fortunately never progressed quite as far as those featured in the film. It was fascinating to see the effects Alzheimer's can have on not only the sufferer, but those around them. 

I was particularly struck by an elderly couple who could not afford to stay in Beatitude (it costs $4000 a month), and so the husband John had taken the full burden of caring for his wife, Nancy. Both John and Nancy had to wear a name tag at all times in case his wife forgot his name or even her own. This must be incredibly hard to witness. 

Louis and Nancy
However, there were moments of genuine affection from those with Alzheimer's towards their loved ones, which showed ..slivers/ of their old selves coming through. A particularly poignant moment was when a man visited his elderly mother who was far deep into the disease and could no longer speak understandably(?) and showed no recognition of her son or the photographs he had brought to show her. He explained that his siblings no longer visited her as it was so difficult, but when his mother put her hands on his face and embraced him he said getting just a fragment of her time like that made it all worth it.

Louis and another resident of Beatitude, John
Another interesting part was learning of a woman who had contracted early Alzheimer's. Being diagnosed before 65 is incredibly rare, but this woman was only 49 and already had extreme difficulty remembering her age, the date and how to make phone calls. Their situation was made even more difficult as she and her husband also had a young daughter. 

The documentary focuses less of the scientific aspect of the disease and more the human side, and therefore is appealing to all, even if you are not interested in science. It is also filmed in a sensitive and respectful way for the families and those affected, and there are moments of humour too. I cannot recommend this documentary enough!

Click here for a link to the documentary, and let me know what you think in the comments section!


  1. This post really strikes a chord with me - it is so hard to see elderly people go through dementia, and sometimes even harder for loved ones to watch their memories fade away. Great post Emily, its a wonderful reminder how short and precious life is. Must watch this documentary now! xx


    1. Thanks very much for your comment. I completely agree, and this documentary shows the disease in a relly respectful way whilst asking some of the questions people are often embarrassed to ask themselves! Sorry to take so long to reply to you! X

  2. I love Louis Theroux! Haven't watched this documentary but most definitely will, after working in a nursing home and having my own nana pass away from the disease its a subject that really interests me and a cause I'm always up for supporting!

    1. I'm the same as you - my granddad unfortunately also had the disease and so it really struck a chord with me. Thanks for your comment! X