Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia Outside the Silver Screen


The Notebook (2004) is probably one of the most recognized classic love stories in the 21st century. Everyone knows the ending of the beloved romantic comedy: two soulmates reunite after seven years and the notebook is their story written by the protagonist Allie, and her husband Noah reads it to her as she battles a type of dementia. This is just one of the more famous portrayals of dementia and Alzheimer’s on TV and in movies. But as these portrayals are plentiful, they may not always be 100% accurate, and these two subjects can often become convoluted. 

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects roughly 5.8 million people in the United States, is a neurological disorder that progresses over time and causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die (Mayo Clinic). As usually portrayed on TV, Alzheimer’s usually does afflict people over the age of 65, 80% of them being 75 years and older (Mayo Clinic). Where the depictions can get a little muddled is just how fast symptoms can escalate and how it can vary from person to person.

Dementia is not a specific disease like Alzheimer’s. Instead, it is a general term for the impaired ability to think, remember, or make decisions that can impede someone’s everyday life (CDC). In The Notebook, Allie is said to have dementia, but the exact type is never explicitly named. In the movie, she is shown to sometimes have periods of clarity, and sometimes abruptly lose her memory and her bearings. Since signs and symptoms can vary from person to person, these lapses in memory, attention, and communication can worsen at varying degrees and speeds. 

Alzheimer’s can be categorized into five stages: preclinical Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, mild dementia, moderate dementia, and severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease (Mayo Clinic). This progression of severity is depicted in the film Still Alice (2014), as we see the protagonist grapple with coming to terms that she and her family have to acknowledge the difference in her behavior and seek help. 

There is still much to learn about Alzheimer’s, and research is prevalent in finding out more on the causes, which are still not well understood. For instance, it’s essential to know that a diagnosis cannot be ruled out entirely to factors such as age, as it’s reported that early-onset Alzheimer’s has arisen as early as 30 years old in about 5% of those afflicted (USC). The genetic and physiological aspects that contribute, as well as investigating any connections it could have with other ailments, are at the forefront of what scientists are looking for. 

The cause of this illness has not yet been discovered, and Alzheimer’s is a disease that still has much to be researched. One of the most important contributions we can make to our loved ones is paying attention to anything outside of the norm. Forgetting your keys while rushing to work is usually just a slip-up that can happen to anyone, but gradual unusual behavior should not be swept under the rug.

 

References

“5 Myths About Alzheimer’s Disease:” Keck Medicine of USC, 8 Nov. 2019, www.keckmedicine.org/5-myths-about-alzheimers-disease/. 

“Alzheimer’s Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Dec. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350447. 

“What Is Dementia?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Apr. 2019, www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html#:~:text=Dementia%20is%20not%20a%20specific,most %20common%20type%20of%20dementia. 

“What to Know about the Stages of Alzheimer’s.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/alzheimers-stages/art-200 48448.

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