Alzheimer's Videos Fall Short

By Kuhn, Daniel | Aging Today, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Alzheimer's Videos Fall Short


Kuhn, Daniel, Aging Today


Hosted by Leeza Gibbons

The Family Guide to Alzheimer's Disease is a five-volume series available in DVD and VHS formats that is similar in content and style to the popular guidebook The 36-Hour Day, Third Edition (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins, 1999). The video series, produced by Life View Resources, Nashville, Tenn., may be useful for some families facing the middle stages of the disease, but it does not take into account the diversity of people with the disease and their families, who often are the main providers of care.

For newcomers to the disease, this series will overwhelm them with details about issues they may face later in the disease process. The probability that most of the people with Alzheimer's disease die before they reach the advanced stages is not considered. Moreover, the perspective of the key individual within the family, the person with the disease, is virtually ignored.

STEREOTYPES

This series reinforces the stereotype that caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is burdensome and that steps must be taken to minimize its toll on caregivers. This depressing theme is summed up in an alarming, inaccurate statement by one featured professional who asserts that 68% of caregivers die before the person with Alzheimer's disease for whom they are caring. The notion that caring for a loved one can be a life-affirming-albeit life-changing-endeavor is missing from this series.

Hosted by television personality Leeza Gibbons, whose mother and grandmother both had AIzheimer's disease, the series draws on interviews with family caregivers and professionals. Six women offer personal stories about caring for loved ones who have already died or have reached the later stages of the disease. A man caring for his wife who is in the middle stages of the disease does not get a fair amount of attention. Most of the family caregivers in the series relate how difficult it was to care for their relatives and offer advice on how to cope with a litany of problems. Particularly painful is watching and hearing one woman who is tearful throughout the five-part series as she reminisces about caring for her now-deceased grandmother. Only one woman in the series hints at the possibility that caregiving can be a growth experience.

The featured professionals include two physicians, a social worker, a nurse and a gerontologist, who generally reinforce the negative stereotypes associated with Alzheimer's disease and dementia caregiving. Although they offer helpful advice, their focus is limited for the most part to the middle stages of the disease. The message of these professionals to families is clear: Prepare and act to survive this relentless ordeal.

The five volumes of the series cover many of the same topics found in dozens of books and videos on Alzheimer's disease. Part one includes the medical aspects of Alzheimer's, such as symptoms, diagnosis, drug treatment and research. Surprisingly, one physician suggests trying estrogen and gingko biloba, both unproven remedies. Part two covers pharmacologic and psychosocial means to prevent or minimize challenging behaviors in those with the disease-behaviors such as combativeness, hallucinations and inappropriate sexual expression. …

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