In the HBO Documentary, The Memory Loss Tapes, we have the opportunity to join several individuals on their journey with Alzheimer’s Disease; a journey that gives us a sad, sometimes shocking glimpse into lives that were once vibrant, active & full of energy & life.
The documentary shows how Alzheimer’s starts with a slow decline, misplacing things to forgetting events and names, then working itself throughout all areas of the brain, deleting important lifelong memories, shattering dreams of futures once planned out with loved ones.
The streaming videos can be found at the following link:
Click Here to Watch The Alzheimer’s Project Films
The one I am going to talk about today is The Memory Loss Tapes, but the other 3 videos are very good. Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am, hosted by Maria Shriver, tells 5 stories of children ages 6-15 who are learning how to cope with their Grandparents diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. There is also a video that could be very helpful for caregivers.
The first story begins with Bessie Knapmiller, age 87 of Birchwood, Wisconsin.
Bessie leads a simple life, she calls herself goofy. She is very much involved in her community and has only recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
In this documentary, Bessie had only been diagnosed for approximately 2 months and honestly, many of her symptoms seem very mild at this point compared to many others throughout the movie.
Throughout Bessie’s story, you meet a sweet elderly lady who has accepted her disease and the path it will lead to, however, she is not throwing in the towel. She still drives, she lives alone and performs most of her daily tasks on her own. Her daughter looks in on her daily, she actually lives next door to her mother, but it is clear that Bessie is not interested at this point in giving up her freedoms. Bessie has some clear signs of Alzheimer’s / Dimentia at times. She forgets names, she can’t remember some past events or people of the past such as the president before Bush, but all in all, I saw a woman who had come to grips with her diagnosis along with her future memory loss and she just seemed all around happy to be alive, nothing more, nothing less.
Fannie Davis is the next peek we have into this life called Alzheimer’s. Fannie is 82 out of St. Louis Missouri and was diagnosed only 3 months ago when this documentory was created. Fannie was once a strong independent woman when she started experiencing a decline in her memory.
In this story, Fannie is going through an assessment for her driving which she spent most of feeling confused and unable to identify signs and direction. Utimately, she failed her driving test. Fannie is now faced with the reality that she can no longer drive. She has lost her independence, one of the sad realities of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The next story, Joe’s Blog, is about a husband, father, grandfather and blogger from Oceanside, California who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 61.
Joe is a computer geek starting in the early 80’s who helped develop cds and dvds back before they came to be. As Joe Potocny states, “I was a genius, now I’m just not.”
Joe created a blog called Living with Alzheimer’s where he posts his daily thoughts and how the disease is affecting him. “What scares me is not the not knowing, but when will that line come where I step over and I don’t come back.”
Joe talks about how he wakes up around 6 in the morning and the next time he is really aware, it is around 4 or 5 pm.
It really seems as if Joe is aware of these massive changes in his day to day life, sometimes. Maybe it is because he is documenting his life with Alzheimer’s and trying to detail it to the best of his abilities with whatever stage he is in.
Joe is planning even his end of life, down to the box his ashes will fill. Very hard to watch.
One very tear jerking moment for me is when Joe talks about when the time comes where he feels like he is finally stepping over that line, he will give his family a hug and a kiss and he will say goodbye, he will end it. A true heartfelt moment that really shows the enormmous weight that sits on the shoulder of someone who is dealing with Alzheimer’s.
The 4th Story, The Lady in the Mirror is about a lady named Yolanda Santomartino, age 75 from Reistertown, Maryland. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease 6 yrs ago.
Yolanda converses with the woman she sees in the mirror, herself, but she calls the lady her friend, Ruth. Yolanda has asked her friend Ruth to come and see her, she tells her, go to your door and I’ll go to mine and we’ll meet, but her friend never shows.
Yolanda’s son Roberto comes to visit his mom and spends much of his time correcting her. She doesn’t recognize him, but does recall a couple of memories he talks to her about, the dog for one. Roberto has a difficult time with the reality that his mom does not remember who he is.
Another difficult thing that Yolanda deals with, she sees things. Animals crawling on her, snakes and other creatures. Finally, the nurses help to rid Yolanda of the images her mind is creating of snakes crawling on her wheelchair, they divert the situation by getting a new wheelchair for her. It is all better now.
Woody’s Song is a story about a man named Woody Geist age 81. Willy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 14 years ago.
His wife talks lovingly about her husband and the love he had for music and life all around. Woody is so even tempered, he loves to whistle and is happy wherever he goes. There is a sweet old lady named Cathy that follows Woody around in the home he lives in and calls him her husband. It seems that Woody is loved by many and he just goes with the flow. He is sitting with this lovely lady on the couch when Woody’s real wife and daughter come to take him to see his old buddies in a group he used to sing with called the Grunions. Woody is confused the entire trip out to the event and when he finally gets there and the music starts up, Woody sings his heart out like he never missed a beat!
The next story, The Fence, features a lovely lady and former artist, Josephine Mickow age 77. Josephine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 5 years ago and lives with her daughter on a farm in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota. Friends of Josephine’s and her daughter came together and helped build a fence around the entire property to help keep Josephine from wandering off. Josephine likes to create vignettes of all kinds. Her daughter takes those opportunities to take pictures and create memories in another way. Her daughter feels like her mother’s creations give a glimmer to her still being there with her. She says, when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she painted over many of her canvas paintings.
Josphine likes to wander and says very little. She makes more sounds than conversation in her advanced stage.
Josephine’s daughter has taken on caregiving for her mother full time on the farm so that her mom can stay comfortably in her home.
This brings us to the conclusion of the documentary, The Last Show. Cliff Holman of Guntersville, AL is 79 years old and was diagnosed 6 years ago with Alzheimer’s.
Cliff, a one time host of a kid’s tv show is in his final stages of the disease. Alzheimer’s has taken it’s toll on Cliff and this fine man is in his end of life with hospice.
Cliff’s wife is more focused at this point in making Cliff’s life comfortable and less worried about the healthy end of things. She realizes that he does not have much time left.
She makes him a buttery sweet meal of french toast and cream of wheat with lots of butter, sugar and heavy cream. Cliff takes a bite and says to his wife, “You know what this tastes like?” His wife responds sweetly, “What?”, Cliff responds “More” with a smile and a little chuckle. The story ends with Cliff losing the battle as all of these stories will sadly end.
No matter how advanced the disease is or is not, it is hard to watch these stories without tears welling up in your eyes. It doesn’t matter if you personally know the individual or not, the fact is, they are all people, and they are all important to and loved by other people and not one of them deserved to be the next victim of Alzheimer’s. All of these beautiful people have touched lives in one way or another and they had dreams, many of which may never be fulfilled.
These people are you and me, they are anyone and everyone. Think of tomorrow not being able to remember today, all of the things you ever put off that could have built one more memory with someone you love, or an exciting trip with your husband or wife that you put off until after retirement, never to see the light of day, having literally everything of knowledge and importance taken away from you in the blink of an eye.
This is the reality of Alzheimer’s, and with the numbers creeping up, with more and more people being diagnosed, this could be your reality, this could be my reality.
We owe it to ourselves and to each other to care more about this disease. It may not be personally affecting you today, but it will, someday, you will see the devistation of this disease.
Something needs to happen soon, it needs to happen now.
Being active in the fight against Alzheimer’s is the only way we will ever be able to look forward to a future without it.
Whatever active is for you, whether it is participating in the annual Fundraiser and Walk to End Alzheimer’s, or any other fundraising opportunity that comes about during the year, or by donating to research , the role you play is an important one!
If you get a moment, do take some time and watch the video. It is sad, but it also brings a smile to the face here and there. The documentary gives shows different lives and different faces of Alzheimer’s. The effects and the toll it takes on one person to another can be different. It brings a realness to the disease and it was done very well. It is also good to see the calming nature of their caregivers and how they make an enormous difference in the lives of these people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Life is so very short,
Every minute counts, and every minute with purpose helps pave the road for a smoother journey, not only for you but for others headed down your path.
Things may not always look clear, but the investment of your heart will always remind you of your mission!
Love & hugs,