This year, the unsexy topic of Alzheimer’s took center stage on the big screen. The hit film “Still Alice” starring Julianne Moore was a mega hit-raising awareness to the battles of those with Alzheimer’s. The film fell on the heels of celebrity news with Glen Campbell’s poignant farewell song, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” and the headline-making guardian battles over radio celebrity Kasey Kasem’s fate.
But given that national statistics forecast skyrocketing growth in Alzheimer’s diagnosis—up from today’s 5 million cases — to 15 million cases by 2050, I wonder if there is room for Americans to learn more about the disease in pop culture. It’s clear that we’re not prepared for what’s coming—the silver tsunami-the baby boomers that will bring a wave of Alzheimer’s with them. In fact, this country is far from ready.
Recently, I was approached by a young man who had directed a play about a woman struggling to come to grips with the fact that she was developing Alzheimer’s. It was a story that revealed both the physical and emotional pain that her family went through as they suffered through the ordeal. The director was contacting me because he heard that I recently co-wrote a successful play launched in Seattle and saw that I had a background in Alzheimer’s care as founder of a senior assisted living company, Aegis Living. It was “A unique pairing.” as he stated, and perfect to help him take his production nationwide.
He sent me clips of the work. I found the story gripping and difficult to read. Within a few moments, memories of my own mother’s demise from Alzheimer’s flooded my consciousness. Then I came back to reality. I was supposed to be evaluating this as theatre.
Having just completed a play about men’s mental health issues, I would be a hypocrite not to at least consider this topic as appropriate for the stage. But the added dimension here was the pain suffered by the family. Have we ever really seen the drama in the struggles that they go through with the theft of a loved one by this disease? Is this a story that needs to be told by theatre? Is it the right venue? Is this art? Is it entertainment? All these thoughts rushed through my head.
I think as we see Alzheimer’s become the number one most costly health crisis in the nation, the answer to all these questions will be, yes. We must get more creative about coming up with ways to educate the general public on this horrible health crisis and the toll that it takes-not only on the victim stricken by the disease, but by the victims that the disease strikes indirectly. Stay tuned…