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Review: ‘Alzheimer’s,’ an Urgent Look on PBS

PhotoRick Shannon and his mother, Phyllis, in “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts.” Credit via PBS

When a documentary’s talking heads use both “tsunami” and “sinkhole” to describe a problem, it gets your attention. And that is precisely the point of “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,”[1] which PBS broadcasts on Wednesday.

Elizabeth Arledge, who made the film, knows that the disease has been in the public eye for a while — her Emmy-winning[2] 2004 documentary, “The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer’s,” helped put it there. That means that Alzheimer’s has, for many people and policy makers, slid to the back burner, a common next step after awareness is raised. “A new problem?

Got it. Now add it to the pile of existing problems.”

So this alarming film doesn’t merely show us the familiar sight of a few people struggling to care for loved ones with the disease, though Ms. Arledge demonstrates a delicate touch in that regard.

Its focus is on the likelihood that instances of Alzheimer’s will increase significantly as the baby-boom generation ages, and life spans lengthen, overwhelming not only the families involved but also the elder-care system in general.

“We’re looking at a tsunami of Alzheimer’s disease in America,” Dr. Stephen J. Bartels of the Dartmouth Institute[3] says.

Continue reading the main story[4]

And that will sap personal savings and government aid programs.

“Alzheimer’s will be the financial sinkhole of the 21st century,” says George Vradenburg, chairman of the board of the advocacy group UsAgainstAlzheimer’s[5].

The film examines how the disease is already especially burdening Florida, a state full of retirees, which might be expected.

But it also considers the problem in a state that might not leap immediately to mind, New Hampshire, where the population is dispersed, and the network of medical professionals and caregivers is thin. Of particular concern, we’re told, is the number of people with Alzheimer’s who live alone. And the disease has impacts that extend even to the skill set needed by the fish and wildlife officers who are often those searching for Alzheimer’s patients who wander.

“Whenever we get a call for an Alzheimer’s patient,” says Sgt.

Alex Lopashanski of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, “you think about things a little bit differently, because they’re not necessarily going to do things that a regular person would do. They may go into a hazard that a normal person who was lost or missing would skirt around.”

The film, of course, is a thinly veiled plea for support for Alzheimer’s research, though it doesn’t delve far into where that effort stands. And it doesn’t acknowledge the obvious: that there is a long list of other diseases — cancer, autism, diabetes, and on and on — that could make just as convincing a case that they should be Priority No.

1.

That’s the real issue: how to allocate finite resources and attention among seemingly endless health needs.

This film is too single-minded to take on that vexing question.

Continue reading the main story[6]

References

  1. ^ Website (www.pbs.org)
  2. ^ Emmy-winning (www.emmys.com)
  3. ^ Website (tdi.dartmouth.edu)
  4. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ Website (www.usagainstalzheimers.org)
  6. ^ Continue reading the main story (www.nytimes.com)

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