Alzheimer’s On Stage?

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…

7 Comments

  1. Mary Claude Foster
    Posted May 7, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Hollywood is catching on–and we all know how important the arts are to cultural understanding of social issues. For all of us who have known someone, loved someone or lost someone to dementia, pls. note the award-winning MemoryCare Plays are coming to Seattle this Friday & Saturday at Taproot Theatre for their west coast debut. ONe of the NY playwrights has even flown in to host the event. Dwayne, we certainly hope with your own artistic contribution thru your books, you will join us–and continue to lead the way. thememorycareplays.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800 838-3008 Ext 1.

  2. Maryse
    Posted May 11, 2015 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree with you. And I would add that the education needs to include some explanation of the brighter moments of this disease. When I speak with residents at Aegis Seattle, their memories are so clear of events from their past, that the stories they tell me are rich and vibrant and entertaining. The process of memory deterioration has, along the way, times of rich recovery of memories which might never otherwise have been discussed or recalled. We must find ways to appreciate the blessings in this disease, as well as deal with the medical research and advances in care required. My interactions at Aegis are as joyous as they are sad, and the ratio of the one to the other is surprisingly good.

  3. Diane J Standiford
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    One area I have worked on is skits for Alzheimer’s residents from Aegis On Madison, where I am a resident due to multiple sclerosis.
    While it might seem too ‘advanced ‘ for someone dealing with Alzheimer’s, in fact I witnessed joy at the idea of playing pretend.
    Both residents and family members could benefit greatly from this.
    Thank you Mr Clark for your great respect of your Aegis family.

  4. David
    Posted August 4, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago, I acted in an independent stage production whose central geriatric character (Grampa) has Alzheimer’s. I played his 55 year old son (I was 25 at the time. Thank God for stage make-up). It was a poignant, sensitive MUSICAL (yes) that could best be described by Truvy in Steele Magnolias :”Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion”. Many audience members would come up to us after each show to thank us for telling a story that echoed parts of their own experience…and made them laugh a bit too.
    Many years later, my own Mother developed Alzheimer’s. It was 10 years of a long goodbye. The irony has not been missed. I am now: 55.
    I would be so grateful to see such a show again, now that I have experience and hindsight.

  5. Posted December 5, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

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  6. Martha Kimmich
    Posted December 6, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Please do a film for TV showing that can get wide viewing, and perhaps go on VHS tape or CD as well.
    My husband died of it, as did his mom (whom we brought out to CA to care for) Now husband’s daughter is in early stages (in a facility). Also my best friend’s father and sister died of it, as did she about 15 years later. Strong familiar link not commonly acknowledged. Need greater public knowledge to get folks behind fighting the disease..

  7. Posted February 17, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I am so moved by the comments, stories and the journey of the CEO, Dwayne Clark that I purchased the book from Amazon – “My Mother, My Son” and also watched some movies on this growing and horrific disease. It leaves the family members with a long daily painful slow demise of their loved ones – like a very long good bye… More infomercials, movies and dramas will be very helpful to educate the masses and those who will end up having such experience in their life time. It now becomes such a noble cause dear to my heart that I want to do something about it.

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