Alzheimer's film: Not many surprises for you, but maybe some for general public

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

Those who care for residents with Alzheimer's disease every day shouldn't expect many surprises from a new PBS documentary. “Alzheimer's: Every Minute Counts” premiered Jan. 25 and also may be watched online.

Surprises or not, you still may wish to see it. With footage and interviews with physicians, legislators, advocacy group representatives, family caregivers, older adults with the disease and others, the hour-long program does a good job of discussing how incidence of the degenerative brain disease is expected to grow as the baby-boom generation ages, showing the toll that caregiving takes on family members, making a case for more research funding and presenting assisted living as an option when it's no longer safe for an older adult to live at home.

Florida's high population of seniors, the documentary states, makes it the “epicenter of the Alzheimer's epidemic” and a place where memory care communities are proliferating. In one scene, Sandy Goldman, marketing director of Seasons Bellaire Memory Care in Clearwater, FL, explains community features to Rick Shannon, who is considering it as a potential spot for his mother, Phyllis.

Goldman points out shelves for mementos outside of all resident rooms, paint colors chosen to lower anxiety and satellite dining rooms to maximize choice. She also explains that memory care is more labor-intensive and requires more staffing and staff with higher levels of education than some other forms of senior living. That's something that Shannon can understand from the time he has spent directly caring for his mother.

What surprises Shannon is the fact that Medicare doesn't cover any of the cost for assisted living, and I think that's one piece of information that will benefit members of the general public who watch the program, in addition to general awareness.

In Florida, the monthly price for life in a memory care community averages $4,000 to $6,000, according to the documentary. The cost is reasonable, Goldman says, given that the rate includes room and board as well as utilities, transportation and care (as well as a profit). But she also understands that many adult children are confronted with such expenses as they are trying to pay for their offsprings' college education as well as save for their own retirement.

“The cost is just a horrible, vicious cycle that is heartbreaking in some ways,” Goldman says to the camera.

The film isn't perfect. I thought it ended rather abruptly, for instance. And the folks at ChangingAging expressed disappointment that the filmmakers didn't include more interviews with people who had received an Alzheimer's diagnosis and more positive messages — for instance, that techniques exist that might prevent or slow the progression of the disease and that the larger community can find ways to be more inclusive of people with dementia.

Those points are valid. Combining documentary-viewing with a perusal of the supplemental online materials — including lifestyle suggestions to improve brain health and information about the Dementia Friendly America initiative — and additional information will provide a more well-rounded educational experience for the general public.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Contact her at lois.bowers@mcknights.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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