PBS’ Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts (Wed., 10 p.m. ET, check local listings) is not directed toward newly-diagnosed patients or their caregivers, necessarily. It is rather aimed at all of us because, as the documentary starkly points out, Alzheimer’s is an epidemic that has taken an enormous toll already, and sadly, is getting worse.
Director Elizabeth Arledge has created an extraordinary film that Dr. Rudolph Tanzi (left) of Harvard Medical School, and one of the leading researchers on the disease, told us in an interview is “The Inconvenient Truth of Alzheimer’s.” If you’ve never had direct experience with Alzheimer’s, Every Minute Counts will startle you, and open your eyes. And if you have, you’ll probably still be surprised by some of the statistics, but much of it will feel familiar.
Daisy Duarte, caring for her 60-year-old mother, Sonja (below, left, with Daisy), says, “I lost my first mom five years ago which was the mom that had me. Alzheimer’s is my second mom.”
Full disclosure, I knew exactly what she meant; I’d said something similar many times. My mother passed away around last Thanksgiving after suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. These stories seem to be universal among families stricken by the disease. They could have just as easily come from mine – as in one segment showing a family scrambling to arrange Medicaid for a mother in an assisted living facility whose money is about to run out in three months.
One of the most important messages in Every Minute Counts is the cost of Alzheimer’s – to patients and their caregivers, the effect on the healthcare economy, and, in turn, you. The future costs to the country with more cases coming are sobering.
Some statistics we learn: the Alzheimer’s Association notes that since 2000, the deaths from Alzheimer’s have gone up 71 percent. In addition, USAgainstAlzheimer’s says there is a new diagnosis every minute in the U.S. and every four seconds around the world. And with the baby boomer generation aging, the number of cases will only increase.
Worse, Alzheimer’s isn’t treatable or curable, and there are no survivors. Ever. These and more are the hard truths of Every Minute Counts, which is difficult to witness. It’s a cruel and insidious disease. No one should have to suffer its callousness and no one should have to watch someone they love go through it. And, through Every Minute Counts, you’ll begin to understand the complexities of the disease and why it needs attention.
The very nature of Alzheimer’s can also mean there are occasional moments less dismal. My mother spent much of the last few years believing she was still in high school, so she was quite happy. And if something frightened her or upset her in any way, she forgot about it within the next few seconds, and she was fine again.
And when everything is over, as a family member or caregiver, you feel as if you’ve endured and won a long battle because you’ve seen your loved one through hers, and that’s all you ever wanted to do.
Every Minute Counts reveals, in stark truths, the consequences of ignoring research and worse, not funding it. Dr. Tanzi, who led the effort to identify the first Alzheimer’s gene 30 years ago, says, “We are not knowledge-constrained; we are budget-constrained. Ninety percent of what we could be doing right now is not being done because of lack of budget.”
He adds that because we have over 70 million baby boomers “heading toward risk age, Alzheimer’s stands to possibly collapse Medicare and Medicaid over the next ten years if we don’t do anything about it.”
Every Minute Counts is not light viewing, but it’s essential to understand the urgency of the fight against Alzheimer’s, which is at a critical point. That's clear in this brilliant, courageous documentary.