Friday, August 17, 2007

There is a Bridge (Alzheimer's)


By Bob DeMarco Alzheimer's Reading Room

I am really looking forward to the release of There is a Bridge on PBS, September 1. The documentary is going to challenge conventional notions, sometimes unfounded, that Alzheimer's patients are "unreachable". The documentary is said to reveal different ways of communicating with those who have dementia and explores how these emotionally profound relationships can change our lives.


The first thing I get asked every time someone learns that I care for my mother who suffers from Alzheimer's is, "does she know you"? This shows you where we are today. Most people seem to believe that people with Alzheimer's wake up and are unable to function. This is far from the truth. While every circumstance is different, my mother continues to do well inspite of the fact that her shortshort term memory is almost nonexistant.

I was told by most medical professionals that my mother would need fulltime care (meaning nursing home) within a year or two when I decided to become her CareGiver. Its been almost four years now and she is still living right in her home with me. It is very trying at times, but we are doing well and still going. My mother's friends still find her to be a delight and are still communicating with her. While I understand it won’t go on like this much longer (I said that last year), it has been a really satisfying experience for both of us.
In one of the film's most moving and memorable moments, 87-year-old Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil, an internationally renowned expert in reaching people with Alzheimer's disease (she founded Validation Therapy), have a dramatic breakthrough brought about by compassionate touch, behavioral mirroring, and a deep connection between patient and practitioner.
Hosted by former United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, There Is a
Bridge explores the deep, complex nature of human solidarity by weaving
together mental health, psychology, art, philosophy and education to
highlight individuals and path-breaking programs reaching out to elders
affected by Alzheimer's.

Many mistakenly associate the diminishment of memory with the loss of
self. However, no degree of dementia deprives people of the need for human
contact, as this documentary reveals. "Today, growing awareness about the
remaining capacities of severely disoriented seniors is inspiring us to
communicate with them on more meaningful terms, regardless of their
cognitive impairment," notes Michael Verde, founder and president of Memory
Bridge: Foundation for Alzheimer's and Cultural Memory. He adds, "This
approach to listening, learning, and loving offers families and friends of
people with dementia a way to stay connected to people with dementia until
the very end of their lives." By staying connected with loved ones, Verde
explains, we stay connected with significant parts of ourselves. "People
with dementia," he says, "can remind us of aspects of our own humanity that
we are forgetting."

Josh Dorman, a nationally recognized artist, explores in his paintings
the rich internal world of elderly people with advanced dementia. Dorman's
work attempts to capture in color, symbol, and line the inner lives of five
seniors in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease. His visually and
emotionally arresting paintings reveal our need to learn the art of
listening.

There Is a Bridge illustrates how anyone, with love and patience, can
bridge the communication gap with an Alzheimer's sufferer. The film
captures astonishing interactions from a trailblazing program that pairs
junior high and high school students with elderly residents in Chicago's
long-term care facilities.

Another segment captures a series of profound exchanges between friends
and family and elders suffering from varying degrees of dementia.
In one of the film's most moving and memorable moments, 87-year-old
Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil, an internationally renowned expert in
reaching people with Alzheimer's disease (she founded Validation Therapy),
have a dramatic breakthrough brought about by compassionate touch,
behavioral mirroring, and a deep connection between patient and
practitioner.

Other segments highlight the experiences of Blas Ortiz, a former opera
singer who continues to communicate through the language of music; Southern
belle Lula Pearl Jackson, who comes mirthfully alive when asked about
Kentucky, racehorses, and her male suitors; and teenagers who ask animated
90- year-olds about their former boyfriends and spouses.
In a stirring close, Robert Pinsky reads from his translation of a
Dante poem about those dimensions of identity that persist beyond the loss
of memory.

The film features the song "Silent House" by The Dixie Chicks. The
ballad, from their double platinum album from 2006, Taking the Long Way,
celebrates how the power of love's memory can triumph over the destructive
impact of Alzheimer's disease.
Produced in 2007 by Michael Verde, founder and president of Memory
Bridge: Foundation for Alzheimer's and Cultural Memory, and directed by Ted
Kay, There Is a Bridge is supplied by TMK Productions and presented by
American Public Television through the Exchange service at no cost to
public television stations nationwide.

SOURCE Memory Bridge: Foundation for Alzheimer's and Cultural
Memory

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Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,880 articles with more than 95,100 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.


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Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room