Friday, April 27, 2012


The Scourge of the Age


I went with that delightful chap Louis Theroux to Phoenix Arizona last night, where the second of his programmes on Extreme Love was filmed (the first was families with autistic children).  This week the subject was dementia.


The Beatitudes Centre is a ‘retirement community’ for men and women with dementia.  It has endless corridors but the residents can’t get out; there is even a special code to use the lift.  The staff seem warm and caring and are excellent at deflecting the patients when they get restless or stressed


For instance, a patient who is a retired dentist is always happy to look at someone’s teeth and gave Louis an encouraging report on his.  When the dentist’s wife came to visit she had become accustomed to his flirtations with the other women – including the woman in charge.  Later in the programme she said she was getting ready to move away and get on with the rest of her life.  Oddly the next time she visited he was extremely attentive to her – as if he had a glimmer of what was going to happen.


One tiny lady was walking up and down the corridor – simply babbling nonsense whilst her son tried in vain to get some response from her.  And then suddenly she stopped in her tracks, reached up to him cupped his face in her hands and gave him such a loving look.  As he said to Louis her life was just fragments but a fragment like that made the visiting worth while.  His sisters no longer visited as it was too upsetting for them.


Louis also visited dementia sufferers being cared for at home by their family.  Nancy – in her late eighties and still a vibrant personality, was cared for by her husband John 89.  Nancy had been a New York model and although she could no longer complete a sentence, there would be bursts of animation and one caught a glimpse of the person she had been and understood why John was happy to care for her.


Quite bravely Louis agreed to look after Nancy for a whole morning whilst John popped out for some respite.  They went for a very short walk – Nancy got tired;  they had cookies with a drink, they listened to some music and eventually, exhausted – they fell asleep on the sofa.  There was great relief all round when John returned and in a quiet moment Nancy – in her fashion asked him not to go out and said that he was so good to her.


Another sufferer was a woman of 49 who can’t remember how to use a mobile.  She was a charming, laughing woman who just seemed to be drowning in a relentless sea of disorientation.  Tragically they had a young daughter and the sight of her patiently laying the table for a meal was so sad.  The husband was doing his best to be a carer but when things got too much his daughter said;

‘Remember Dad – softly and sweetly.


When they visited the doctor for a check up he asked the patient to draw a clock with the numbers on.  Afterwards Louis asked why the doctor had seemed to curtail the session and the doctor said he had seen all he needed and he didn’t want her to get more stressed.  The husband Glen said he thought about his and his daughter’s future.  He couldn’t afford residential care and was considering – later on – divorcing his wife so that she would be the responsibility of the state.  Seeing what decent people the family were I wondered how they could survive something like that.


There is something quite child-like about Louis Theroux and the people he meets trust him and like him.  His face reveals his compassion and he naturally reaches out to these patients and hugs them as if they were family.

 Dementia Awareness week is coming up soon.  Around 670.000 are thought to be affected by the condition and one in three expected to develop it in the future.

20 comments:

Kim Ayres said...

It's a terrible affliction. Both Maggie's parents went through it before they died. It's heartbreaking.

Pat said...

Kim: poor Maggie. My younger brother developed it in his fifties and I am concerned about my elder sister who is living out in Thailand - fortunately with her son and his wife.

debra said...

It is a tough thing. We cared for my father-in-law, who had Alzheimer's. Since we live next door, we were able to keep him at home for a while. Then the falls and the middle of the night calls became too much, and we could no longer keep him safe. He was in hospital, then a wonderful nursing care facility, where he died last fall. We are now cleaning out the house. It is a long road, and the help and support of others is so appreciated.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

It is mighty depressing, to say the least. And it does seem that more and more people are suffering with dementia or some form of Alzheimers Disease.So very very sad and so very very difficult for those who love and care for the sufferer

R. Sherman said...

Very difficult for families. They call it, "the long goodbye." Caps off for all care-givers in those situations.

Pat said...

Debra: it is a long hard road I know. I hope it all gets easier now.

Naomi: it tends to be the Cinderella of the charities and my hope is that more awareness will bring more money for research into treatment and prevention.

Randall: it is the long goodbye and when my brother finally died after years of living in a wilderness I could only be thankful that he was free at last.

LL Cool Joe said...

My father-in-law, who I've known since I was 18 died of Alzheimers Disease a couple of years ago. What an awful disease it is. Terrible, and the worst thing is it's strips a person of all their dignity.

Pat said...

Joey: it is the cruellest one I think.

Macy said...

Saving up to watch this one on the iPlayer Pat.
I think Louis's having to film in America these days because too many of his UK "subjects" have been fooled into revealing too much through his wide eyed nice guy personna.
But this series around he's coming across as a genuinely caring.

Pat said...

Macy: i could believe that was true. He always seems so ingenuous. He's much nicer now - maybe he has matured somewhat.

Judy (kenju) said...

How very sad it must be for all concerned. I had a small taste of that with my mom and I am so thankful that she didn't live long in that state.

Pat said...

Judy: it is getting more and more common as we all live so much longer.

rashbre said...

I also saw the programme which deals with a tough subject. Theroux's style made it very compelling and very touching to watch.

I also like the way he uses the scenes and lets the viewer form their conclusions rather than running continuous editorial voiceovers.

Pat said...

Rashbre: you got him precisely:)

Mage said...

Such a moving post. Thank you so much.

Pat said...

Mage: I hoped to do it justice.

Marjolein said...

I hope they'll air this on Dutch tv too. I love Louis Theroux's documentaries, they always show the human side to the issues.

Pat said...

Marjolein: and he's getting better with maturity.

Guyana-Gyal said...

The husband of one of my mother's cousins is suffering from dementia. They live in America but we get regular updates. It's so sad.

Someone should secretly film what goes on in some nursing homes when the staff don't know the camera is there...

Pat said...

GG: that has happened over here and as a result some homes have been closed.
But the problem doesn't go away.