Dementia Patients: Film Honors the Memory of the Forgotten

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Last September, my parents planned a visit to come and meet their 2-month-old grandson. On the first day of their trip, my mother fell and broke her hip in three places and her arm at the shoulder joint. After a week in the hospital, she was sent to a skilled care rehabilitation center (nursing home) to begin both physical and occupational therapy until she could return to our house and recover before journeying home.

At 69, she was the youngest person at the facility and was surrounded by long-term patients, many of whom suffered from dementia and would likely be residents until their passing. It was a terrifying environment for her, and despite the kind and supportive staff, her surroundings were ultimately the key motivator for her to complete her therapy and eventually leave the facility.

But many don’t have that option.

Sadly, there are thousands of patients with dementia who will remain in nursing homes until they pass away, possibly alone, and whose stories certainly will remain untold. I am lucky enough to work for a company that cares about its community and ultimately wants to improve patients’ lives—and seeks to tell their stories. DWA Healthcare Communications Group invested in a short film project to help increase visibility and awareness of people living with dementia. In February, a partnership of our staff, local Indiana businesses, and Central Indiana volunteers completed principal photography for “SARGE,” a short film based on the experiences of my colleague and “SARGE” director, Benjamin Dewhurst, and his time visiting his grandfather in a nursing home. “SARGE” is a medically-relevant short film centered on an elderly World War II Army veteran living in a nursing home, plagued by dementia and an unrelenting desire to escape and be with his family. When postproduction editing is complete, this story will be shared through film festivals and other channels to help people better understand patients with dementia and their desire to be with their family.

So, whose story does “SARGE” tell? According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 1.4 million people currently reside in one of America’s 15,700 nursing facilities, and nearly 60 percent have some form of dementia or cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. At the point that the first wave of baby boomers reaches the age of 85 (in 2030), the Alzheimer’s Association projects that more than 3 million Americans over the age of 85 will be afflicted with this illness. By 2050, that number could increase to 7 million people.

The impact on caregivers is significant. Whether you are a spouse, sibling, child, grandchild, or even a parent of someone with dementia, few options are available, and caring for your loved one is truly a full-time job. This is why so many people living with dementia end up in skilled care facilities where professional and caring staff can monitor, support, encourage, and protect these patients. Providing consistency and skilled care for residents, especially those living with dementia, is vital. I wish more people understood this illness and better appreciated the professionals who care for these live-in patients.
 

Though my mother only had a 2-week stay at the facility, the other residents of the home are still there, anxiously awaiting visits from family and friends, some of whom will never arrive. During the day, they distract themselves with television or coordinated activities. At meal times, they line the halls in wheelchairs, waiting for someone to take them to eat. At nights, some wander the facility, some cry out, and others are wide awake, unable to sleep. No matter their mental state or their mobility, all of them want the same things we all do: safety, security, a sense of belonging, and to be loved. Some of them are in the home because they just don’t have anywhere else to go. For many, though, the reason they are there is because their families love them enough to make the difficult decision to place them somewhere safe: where their mental, physical, and medical needs could be addressed quickly and appropriately.
 

While there are several available treatments to slow cognitive decline, no cure currently exists for dementia or Alzheimer’s, though many are actively seeking both preventative options and treatments to reverse the disease’s effects. Working for a healthcare communications agency, I have been inspired by and am appreciative of the open collaboration and exchange of clinical data, trial findings, and hypotheses across all key players—the government, public/private partnerships, research institutions, clinicians, and those in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries—all in a combined effort to develop treatments and find a cure.

As we wait for that cure to be discovered and made available, we must continue to raise awareness of the disease and its impact, acknowledge those unsung heroes (caregivers, healthcare professionals, and skilled care staff) who care for those living with the disease, and provide our support for those who are partnering to discover a cure.

Jeff Sears is Executive Director at Avant Healthcare.
 

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